Dip Room Blues

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After missing a year of high school to a life-threatening illness, Fred Tarrant would need an extra year to earn his high school diploma. Not a great student to begin with, he found himself falling just short of the credits he needed to graduate. Unwilling to trade discrete favors with one of his teachers, he returned home in 1946, sans diploma, to Saratoga Springs to work at Tarrant Manufacturing. He started in the factory dip room, alone, hooking machine frames onto an electric lift and lowering them into huge vats of paint and thinner, afterward sliding each frame over a thirty-foot drip pan. He did this over and over while, unbeknownst to him, the lift threw sparks here and there, trying its best to set the place on fire.

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The Strike of ’43

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When it came to John Jensen’s character, his failures could be as telling as his successes. Fred Tarrant recalls a night when his buddy John was heading out on a big date. Fred, though blind, could see better than John, so John had him inspect his outfit. Fred was impressed with John’s stunning white suit and red boutonnière, and sent John off into the New York night with his full approval. John returned later that night with his white suit splattered with grease, soil, and blood. He had fallen off a train platform en route to his date!

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Personality Disorders

Sam Barber, sitting in the redwood parlor playing Adagio
for Strings on the Steinway, and Una’s in the bathtub
running the cold tap with a pistol in her hand and a bullet
in her breast, her black broth bleeding out, making warm
curlicues all around her, an arm reaching out
for more sleeping pills.

Behind the piano, the door to the guest room is closed
for J.R. and his guest, romping on the deathbed
and I’m seasick on the heaving edge, looking out
the west window—the reaper in the surf.

Yeats, J.R.’s comrade is fog-white with age
and madness and running naked through the poppies
singing for the tatters in his coat and brandishing
Una’s best cleaver at the star-eyed tourists.

© 2016 Kaweah

Falco urbanus

“Jeffers is my God.” — Charles Bukowski

When the blades of the falcon’s
    silhouette flash
Between the bright towers of the City
    we rub our eyes.
Pigeons squat in gutters
    on watch for shadows.
Not the ruddy-tailed buzzard
    the poet lionized;
Bagger of rodents, wounded birds,
    wayward fledglings,
Squats atop Tudor cottages and
    unicorn castles;
The brute too clumsy to thread
    a cypress hedge,
Hover above the moor, nosedive
    from infinity.

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Hotel Jericho

Lowcountry, maybe twenty
upstream miles from the Battery
and a few feet above the sea;
the gators and the blackwater
patiently flow, and you can just about
hear the ghost-song of the ivory bill
echo off the cypress knees.

On the south bank, the land
swells forty or so feet
to lanky yellow pine stands
and narrow Old Jacksonboro Road,
holding to the rim till a finger
of the Caw Caw points to where
the road meets the Savannah Highway
and the tracks at Adams Run.

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Itinerant Healer

Chiropractic was unlicensed in New York State, so at age 31, Dad decided to move his practice elsewhere. He first hopped on a bus to Miami, slept on the beach there, and decided Miami wasn’t for him. He tried Denver next, and ran into another chiropractor who needed help with his practice. Dad joined the practice, and his parents soon followed him there. Things looked promising until Dad found out that the other chiropractor was tainting patient samples with food coloring. Now broke, Dad decided to give California a try.

Grandma and Grandpa followed along, landing in Venice Beach where Grandpa, going blind from diabetes, sold flowers on the street. Grandma also worked. Dad had to go back to college to pick up some credits for licensing. He enrolled in a small chiropractic college in Hollywood while he lived in a rooming house and subsisted on peanut butter sandwiches. He met another chiropractor named Hansen there and they started a practice together on Hawthorne Blvd, across from the Hawthorne Grill (of Pulp Fiction fame). At that point Dad was 33. Hansen was handy as a sighted partner, but he wasn’t around much, and he eventually left the practice entirely.

Grandma and Grandpa got an apartment 6 or 8 blocks away in Lawndale. Grandma would dress in white and help out as a receptionist, or in whatever way she could. Dad was pulling in $400 per week, and he felt rich. He was also an active member of the Los Angeles Bahá’í community, one of the largest and most distinguished Bahá’í communities in the world. With the death of the Guardian, it was a dark time for Bahá’ís, but they would soon recover.

The Voice of God

Though Dad’s mother had been excommunicated, he had been raised Catholic in some marginal sense. He was Catholic enough to be classified as such in his school records, and Catholic enough to be told by a priest that he was going to Hell. Once out on his own, he took a sharp turn away from religion to become something of a “freethinker,” but that turned out to be only a transition.

Dad first encountered the Bahá’í Faith during the time he lived in New Rochelle. He was not approached by a Bahá’í as one would expect, but by a curious non-Bahá’í friend, a fellow chiropractor named Gene Marcus. Gene was a faithful friend. Whenever Dad needed help as a blind man starting a new business, he could count on help from Gene, even if he didn’t particularly want help. One time, Gene bought Dad two suits out of the blue.

It happened one day that Gene got curious about a Persian religion called the Bahá’í Faith, so he invited Dad to join him in attending a public Bahá’í function, probably a “fireside.” Now it doesn’t appear that Gene ever became a Bahá’í (though his brother Leslie did), but Dad became interested, and attended several firesides. [1] A particularly effective speaker presented at one of these functions, and Dad asked for reading materials.

They first suggested that he read “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era,” an entry-level introduction to “the Faith,” which contained at least one passage that would likely appeal to a chiropractor:

He who is filled with love of Bahá, and forgets all things, the Holy Spirit will be heard from his lips and the spirit of life will fill his heart. … Words will issue from his lips in strands of pearls, and all sickness and disease will be healed by the laying on of the hands.

Baha’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 112

There are other references to natural healing throughout the Bahá’í scriptures. The scriptures, for instance, discourage the use of medicine “when health is good”:

Refrain from the use of drugs . . . Abstain from drugs when health is good, but administer them when necessary.

Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, 1980 ed., p. 106

The Bahá’í scriptures predict that in the future healing will be performed through nutrition:

The science of medicine is still in a condition of infancy; it has not reached maturity. But when it has reached this point, cures will be performed by things which are not repulsive to the smell and taste of man — that is to say, by aliments, fruits and vegetables which are agreeable to the taste and have an agreeable smell.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 256

The majority of the diseases which overtake man also overtake the animal, but the animal is not cured by drugs. In the mountains, as in the wilderness, the animal’s physician is the power of taste and smell. The sick animal smells the plants that grow in the wilderness; he eats those that are sweet and fragrant to his smell and taste, and is cured.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 257

This must have piqued Dad’s interest, but he wanted to go straight to the source—the scripture, so he asked that someone read “the Ketáb-e-íqán” to him. He was instantly convinced. “No man could write this,” he declared. He was sure the book was the “Word of God.”

Dad became a Bahá’í during the time the Bahá’í community was under the leadership of Shoghi Effendi, AKA “the Guardian,” the last of the Bahá’í patriarchal bloodline. Shoghi, unlike his predecessors, had a western education—an Oxford education, and it showed. He lacked personal charm, but he possessed a remarkable mastery of the English language, particularly for a non-native speaker. Dad could reel off Shakespeare from memory and had a pronounced affection for eloquent language. I’m inclined to believe that Shoghi’s lofty language and purposeful voice, which embodied both the works he authored and those he translated, was one of the greatest factors in my father’s conversion.

New York City had one of the older, established Bahá’í communities in the western world. Bahá’ís had lived there since 1897. One of the most influential leaders of the Bahá’í Faith, Abbas Effendi, AKA “the Master,” Shoghi’s grandfather and direct predecessor, had famously lectured throughout New York City for a couple months in 1912.

Dad lived and worked in New Rochelle at the time of his introduction to the Bahá’í Faith. New Rochelle, being in the New York City metro area, had a strong Bahá’í history and presence. Dad even had the honor of visiting Juliet Thompson—a rather well-known Báhá’í artist—at her home, which I believe was in New Rochelle (she was buried there). Dad’s experience as a Bahá’í in the New York of the mid-1950s must have been distinct from what he would experience once he left New York, and he would experience quite a variety of Bahá’í communities over his lifetime.

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[1] Fred Tarrant attended one or two firesides as well, surely at Dad’s invitation. Fred would later visit the Chicago temple at Dad’s invitation, but he was unmoved. Fred, like Dad, had been raised by a Catholic mother, but Fred has never been drawn to religion, though he respects Dad’s strong moral drive.

From Masseur to Chiropractor

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JohnJensenMassageClassAfter graduating from the New York Institute, Dad moved to Bedford Hills and then Katonah (both within several miles of home), and studied massage therapy at the Swedish Institute in Manhattan for 9 months.

At age 22, Dad followed his parents to Bernardsville, New Jersey, where his father was a caretaker on another property, apparently the exquisite Blairsden Estate[1]

At age 23 (1947/48), Dad enrolled at the Chiropractic Institute of New York [2]. He helped to pay his way by working as a masseur. Though chiropractic was surely Dad’s choice, that choice may have been influenced by his father’s dream that his son would become a doctor some day. [3]

Nick D'Amato

Nick D’Amato

Dad opened his first chiropractic practice at age 27 in the town of Rye, NY, perhaps in his parents’ apartment. He moved his practice to New Rochelle a year later. His parents and his sister moved in with him. This made it difficult to present the office as an office, but his mother surely helped however she could [4]. One of Dad’s best friends was fellow chiropractic student Nick D’Amato. Nick happened to be a brother of boxing trainer/manager Cus D’Amato, but more important, Nick was a kind of saint. To Dad, Nick was a faithful friend, and occasionally a practical joker. He helped Dad however he could, such as helping him with lecture notes. He was the friendly, helpful type. During the war, Nick had specialized in helping soldiers, many of them amputees, cope with their physical and psychological wounds.

© 2015 Kaweah

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[1] Fred Tarrant remembers visiting Dad and his family at Bernardsville

[2] 325 East 38th Street, in the Murray Hill neighborhood, presently the Indonesian consulate to the UN.

[3] According to Fred Tarrant, Grandpa had a singular, unwavering dream that Dad would become a doctor. Fred knew Dad’s parents, having stayed with the family on several occasions. He claims to have had the highest respect for Grandpa, though he admits that he liked to rile Grandpa by talking to him about controversial topics such as evolution.

[4] Fred Tarrant remembers visiting the Dad’s New Rochelle office.

Glaucoma

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At age 19, John Jensen was injured while wrestling, and the injury led to glaucoma, which took away what little of his vision remained, caused him a great deal of discomfort, and robbed him of the balance, agility, and speed that made him a remarkable wrestler.

In the summer before his senior year, J.J. was to get a cornea transplant to save his remaining eye. The night before his appointment, he awoke to find everything dark. He felt a lamp, and it was hot. The next day, the doctor determined there was too much pressure on the eye to perform the transplant. This traumatic episode set John back as a wrestler, though he continued to wrestle competitively. He attended an Olympic trial in San Francisco [1], but the glaucoma degraded his performance, as it would throughout the year to come. He tried to rehabilitate but he couldn’t get it all back. John’s days as “the Bull” were over.

John had been almost entirely blind since he was three, when diphtheria nearly killed him, took one of his eyes, and nearly took the other. As a boy, he could see very fuzzy shapes within a couple feet of his face. It was only good for detecting the presence of light. Now a man, his blindness was complete, though he could still “see” large objects by using passive echolocation (he didn’t ping for echo).

© 2015 Kaweah

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[1] Probably in spring 1944. Fred Tarrant confirms that the trials were in San Francisco. There were no Olympic games in 1944, but it appears that trials were held. Fred was too ill to compete. John managed to make the trip, but he was ill and did poorly. Fred says the illness in this case was John’s glaucoma.

Bronx Batman: Fred Tarrant

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Fred Tarrant was particularly close to Dad. They were teammates, sparring partners, weight-training partners, friends, and conspirators. I exchange correspondence with Fred, as well as an occasional phone call. Fred and Dad first met when Fred first enrolled at the Institute, when “J.J.” had just turned 15. Tarrant was a couple years younger than Jensen but bigger by a weight class. He placed 2nd in the junior Metropolitan AAU tournament at age 16 and went on to place third in the National AAU title the following March at Baltimore in 1944 [1]. After that, he returned home to place 2nd in the Metropolitan AAU tournament. Tragically, Fred’s brain had taken too much abuse from his lifestyle on the one hand and dehydration from his attempts to drop pounds before his last tournament. He underwent brain surgery; he was hospitalized for the better part of year, and he lost a year of school. Because of this, Fred didn’t graduate until 1946. He tried to get back into wrestling form, but he could never recapture his former fire. His wrestling days were over.

As good as Fred was, he says that he could never beat Dad. He describes Dad as an “explosive force.” Perhaps he’s being gracious.

Tarrant was from Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. His grandfather had started a manufacturing business that Fred’s father worked in. Fred would return to Saratoga Springs after graduation to work in the family business. He started his own manufacturing business in 1969, but he could only manage to break even, so after four years of that he gave landlording a try. That kept Fred, his wife Odilie, and their two kids in the black for twenty years. They then moved to Naples, Florida, where after some time Fred got involved in municipal government. In 2005, Fred and Odilie moved to the mountains of Costa Rica. Like Dad, Fred had a hard time with the heat and humidity of the South, so he is much more comfortable at a kilometer above sea level.

As a city councilman in Naples, Florida, Tarrant once made the news by objecting to the display of artwork that he deemed inappropriate. Tarrant being blind, many people found this ironic, but of course people regularly express opinions based on accounts from trusted sources. When a blind man does so, some people don’t judge him by the same standard.

Fred, sharp as a titanium tack at age 88, has turned to writing in his retirement. He recounts the past with modest confidence, vividness, and color. There is a story of Dad falling off a train platform in New York that I have heard on a number of occasions from the horse’s mouth. It’s a pleasure to hear Fred’s account. He recalls that Dad had a date with a beautiful young lady, and he got dressed up in a white jacket and a pink carnation (yes, Fred could see color; he just couldn’t see well enough to read). The next thing Fred knew, “Johnny” had returned with his nice white outfit covered in blood and grease. Johnny had fallen off the train platform.

© 2015 Kaweah

[1] Fred was thrown my Emil J. Tomick in the semifinal. Tomick went on to win the championship.