18. LIVING IN LIMBO IN MONTECITO, PART 1 (the Hoffmans)
In the spring of 1969, I was just completing my two-year graduate MFA program. While my life was coming together on a spiritual level, on the practical...worldly...level I was not much further along than I was in 1967 when I entered a psychiatric hospital to heal my acute anxiety and depression.
Then I had needed 'neutral territory' in order to recover and I had observed a number of things from that month-long convalescence.
Surrounded by people who were so paralyzed by fear they couldn't leave the place, I was determined to leave as soon as possible...before addiction to its false security set in. I saw that the organized amusements and distractions only helped on a superficial level and, if relied on, could keep one from confronting the issues that needed to be resolved. And, among other things, I found that the simple ritual of making one's bed up immediately on arising was a great discipline and shield against the lethargy of depression.
As my graduate studies were coming to an end, once again I found I had no plans for the future.
I was living in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, in a large pueblo-style house off School House Road with the Hoffman family.
That arrangement came about when an art department model, Valley Hoffman, suggested that I might live more quietly and economically in Montecito with her mother and step-father, Gene and Hallock Hoffman, after I told her that I was tired of living in Isla Vista, surrounded with noise, chaos, and partying young adults as well as trying to make my expenses. My sole income was from my teaching assistantship at U.C.S.B. and that wasn't a great deal.
I would be hired as a 'go-between' to enhance communication and lessen friction between Gene and the five children...Paul, Erik, Kristian, Nina, and Kaj...still living at home. Paul was a student of mine in art at U.C.S.B.
As it turned out, my position was more an idea than a fact. There really wasn't much I could do aside from being there as a buffer. Relationship conflicts would periodically flare up, but generally seemed to work their way out independently of any assistance I might be able to offer. Nevertheless, I was welcomed to stay and I appreciated it. It was an interesting and worthwhile experience, for me at least, if for no one else.
I forgot to mention that part of my duties was to be preparing the evening meal for the children. That soon became overwhelming. I was totally unprepared for the task and, at that point, had little interest in preparing food anyway...my own, or anybody else's.
The Hoffmans agreed, relieved me of those duties, and soon hired an evening cook, Maureen, who was about my age. Maureen made tasty, healthy dishes. I think she must have been good at whatever she did because she would put her full attention to it. I enjoyed watching her prepare the meals…cutting and slicing, putting everything together…with concentration and care.
Maureen was a unique individual and I enjoyed her company. She rode to the house on a bicycle and wore mid-calf skirts and sandals...that, to me, seemed unusual and exotic at the time. She was stately, intelligent and well-read, and had a wonderfully rich voice which she articulated with clear and precise diction.
She had a natural confidence and could bring a comprehending peace to an uncomfortable situation. As a consequence, my 'duties' were amounting to almost nothing and I became, by default, simply a part of the household.
Some years later, in the 80s, when I returned to Santa Barbara, I liked to listen to the local classical music station. The wonderful, articulate voice I heard announcing the selections was familiar and unmistakable...it was Maureen's.
Both Gene and Hallock had grown up in exceptional conditions. Gene was the only child of Valley and Tom Knudsen who founded, with his brother, the Knudsen ('...the very best') Creamery in Southern California. She grew up in luxury in a large Tudor house in the exclusive Chevy Chase area of Glendale.
It was not surprising that Gene had some issues. She told me one time that her parents, avid and influential Republicans, considered Richard Nixon (who they were close to) the son they never had...and that relationship was reciprocal. For a liberal activist female, that would be hard to swallow.
Hallock grew up in luxury in the Mid West in a house that had full-sized palm trees growing in an indoor solarium/atrium that stayed warm during the harsh midwestern winters. He was a son of Paul G. Hoffman who worked his way up from a very successful car salesman to being the president of the Studebaker Company as well as a president of the Ford Foundation. He was chosen by President Truman to lead the implementation of the Marshall Plan after the war.
Hallock was at the Center For the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, and both he and Gene were pacifists and progressives who came from conservative families. Joan Baez was among their friends. The Hoffmans had nice a collection of her albums and I would sit in their living room, looking out the big picture window onto the lawn, listening to Baez singing.
Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020 All rights reserved.
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