By Tim Henney
The following is an unabridged journal of a conversation with my visiting kid brother, the late Christopher Clark Lewis, commuting on the Long Island Railroad from downtown NYC to Lloyd Harbor, Long Island in late August, 1967.
Kit is 21. He wears his blond hair longer than those in tweedy suits, like me, who commute daily from Cold Spring Harbor, NY to and from Manhattan on the Long Island Railroad. Two hours door-to-door, one-way, if everything works. Ample time for the New York Times and the WSJ.
Kit’s hair is not shaggy like students riding the railroad from suburban Long Island homes out to the Stony Brook campus of the State University. A Californian like me, Kit graduated in June from Bard College, a small, funky, extra-left liberal arts campus hard by the Hudson, two hours north of NYC. He majored in English literature and drama — knowledge to enrich his life culturally, but not economically.
When he returned to Long Beach, Calif., after graduation, our parents (same mom, different dads) gave him a new British roadster. He has been driving to San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Las Vegas, Baja, often with a girlfriend. He says he feels like the hero in the 1963 book “The Graduate,” now in production as a film with Dustin Hoffman and sexy Katherine Ross. According to The Times, which has already written raves about the movie and especially its director, Mike Nichols, Dustin speeds up and down California’s Highway One in an Alfa Romeo. I vividly remember that vibe. In my case, the lusty, top-down, coastal cruising summer of ‘56. Same romantic road.
Kit has hitchhiked through Europe, living in hostels with fellow wanderers. He is more comfortable with citizens of less developed countries. He contends they laugh and love more than Americans. Kit believes the Ugly American stereotype — crude, greedy, loud, overfed, boring, unlearned. He does not accept the Establishment belief that most people in less “advanced” countries would happily swap their cultures and standards for ours, given the chance. Kit is working on a paper he hopes will convince his draft board that he is philosophically unfit to be drafted. Like Arlo Guthrie in his new hit tune, “Alice’s Restaurant,” Kit does not understand why the U.S. is losing thousands of American lives defending the world, solo, against North Vietnamese guerilla fighters in Asian jungles. He doesn’t buy the popular domino theory that if the South Vietnamese lose, the world’s non-commie nations will topple, one after the other, and then our goose is cooked. China and Russia win, after all.
Of course, Kit is a mere 21. What does he know? But I am 36 and don’t buy it either — even if I do carry a briefcase, smoke a pipe, pay a big mortgage and sail a little boat.
The way I reacted to my own draftboard’s threat in 1951 was to enlist in the Air Force so I wouldn’t become cannon fodder in Korea. Most of those I knew in the military and in college did the same. Turner Air Force Base in Albany, Ga., where I edited the base newspaper, was populated by air national guard units from Mississippi and New Jersey. Most members had temporarily quit college, as I had, and joined the guard to dodge the draft. So who is most deserving of scorn — Kit, who doesn’t want to die fighting commies in Nam because he thinks it’s just about politics and rich guys getting richer selling guns and tanks and planes and battleships? Or was it my fellow collegians in the early ‘50s, most of whom would have quickly joined up to fight in 1941 as our dads did. But we now felt less obligated to die fighting rural commies in Korea in support of unconvincing, intangible explanations by non-combatant, bomb-happy Henry Kissinger and his ilk, precious few of whom ever served in uniform.
Bloody civil rights marches and Vietnam have split this nation like nothing since the Civil War (or, as they call it down in Dixie, The War Betweeen The States). One hundred years ago. Then it was free versus slavery, north versus south, urban industrial versus rural ag. Now it’s over age 30 versus under age 30. It’s either keep bombing the damn commies, or pursue peace, love, harmony and drugs. It’s either help black people climb out of the hole we put them in — or get to work, the way white folks did and do.
A few months ago I rejoined AT & T’s New York headquarters after testing the waters in Beverly Hills with another outfit. My Bell System betters immediately sent me to D.C. to organize and manage a 100 millionth telephone installation in the White House. Then I was assigned to broadcast advertising in New York, my job today. We produce the “Bell Telephone Hour” on radio and TV, and make accompanying commercials. I fly to L.A. every so often, and usually visit Kit’s parents, and mine, in Long Beach. I am not a corporate bigshot. But because I represent the world’s biggest company I fly first class and stay at the Beverly Wilshire, the Bel Air, or the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset. I am not a businessman, but a journalist for business. A highly decent business. Not a polluter. Not Big Tobacco. Not Coca Cola, which chews through rusty bolts. Were I destined for fame, I’d much rather be known for scripting great Broadway musicals or editing The New Yorker than for heading a Forbes 500 corporation.
I have spent the summer since returning from D.C. riding the Long Island and working long hours downtown so I can meet formidable mortgage payments; maintain two wooded acres with a bridle path down to a private beach we share with neighbors on Cold Spring Harbor; afford to keep backyard horses; make payments on the sports car we bought in California; and belong to the Lloyd Neck Bath Club (tennis, swimming, sand, sailboats). On balance I am pleased with life. Kit, not so much. There is a gap separating us, but not the usual father/son generation gap. More a decade-and-a-half brother gap. Less abrupt than that between Kit and his father, Hal, my stepdad, who is 65.
Hal is Long Beach’s leading jeweler. He chairs the downtown business association and the local hospital board. He is a lifelong member of one of the oldest, most exclusive country clubs in the state — as was his father, who founded the jewelry company. Hal grew up properly, attended Stanford, and is a gentleman. He was reared in a formal home with a billiard room. After he wed our mom in 1938 he taught me how to play pool. At age nine, on a massive 1920’s Brunswick table inherited from my own grandparents, I could “run the table” in straight pool. Hal taught his three children and two stepchildren to swim at the venerable, private Pacific Coast Club on Ocean Boulevard, a Long Beach landmark. He calls us by nicknames: Fella, Buck, Susie, Pigeon, Scrubby. When our daughter Heidi, now 6, showed signs of showmanship at age two on a 1962 visit back to California, “Grandpa Hal” named her Talullah, for the inimitable Talullah Bankhead of 1940’s film fame. A solid Republican but not an oaffish one, he likes Dick Nixon. Even so, his children and stepchildren love him dearly.
Although certainly more supportive of civil rights struggles and Vietnam War protesters than his father’s generation, Kit has never fought a cop or trashed a store. He doesn’t spew obsenities or join riots. He’s not an acid head, although I’m sure he’s sampled the uppers and downers to which so many of today’s kids attribute mystical beauty. I never heard him rave about January’s human be-in at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park or NYC’s Central Park version last March with 10,000 howlng hippies and yippies.
Kit would come across to the average corporate personnel manager as a polite, pleasant fellow with a firm handshake but too wayward an attitude for the management trainee program. If the local bank president’s daughter brought Kit home for dinner, her father would frown. Kit would express no interest in the father’s business, the stock market, professional football, golf, or napalming the gooks in Nam. He’d probably play with the family dog instead. But Kit and his unkempt colleagues are what’s happening. Corporate America is not listening when Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, Janis Joplin and Simon and Garfinkel sing the times are a-changin’. Kit and his peers — white, black, brown and yellow — are tuned in. We should be too.
My kid half-brother and I found rapport on the long train ride home because we share enough current concerns. To wit: Although I wear a three piece suit and rep tie, I fall as short, I hope, of being a corporate cliche as Kit does of being a revolutionary. Rather than investing in the market and driving a Lincoln, Jackie and I spend on ponies, hay, oats and barn repairs. Our second car is a jeep. In disputes with industry over more nuclear power plants, clean air or protecting redwood groves, we are with the Sierra Club and Ralph Nader. I’ve always voted Democrat. I’ve despised Dick Nixon since I was a USC freshman in 1950 and he was destroying the gracious Helen Gahagan Douglas, his liberal congressional opponent in his first run for office in California. He labeled her “the pink lady” and it stuck. Nixon has built his career on character assassination. How do we attract such nasty, devious misfits to lead our nation? I was a Bobby Kennedy guy, but he was shot. I’ll vote for Humphrey. Kit won’t vote. He says they’re all a bunch of crooks.
Kit can’t imagine commuting the way I do to earn a living. I’m not certain he can imagine even earning a living. I’d rather walk to work, too, but sailing a sunfish and catching seabass off our own beach is tough to turn down, if you can swing it. Kit doesn’t know what he wants in the years ahead. But then he’s only 21. I wrestle with similar musing, and I’m 36. Too many assassinations, too many wars, too many burning cities, too many raging young people, too much violence, mistrust and hate. Right now it’s comfortable in the corporate cocoon. I guess I’m lucky. Or irresponsible. We’ll see.
Christopher Clark “Kit” Lewis died of cancer several years ago in Toronto, where he lived. He left a wife and two young sons. The author retired as director of public relations of the original AT & T in NYC in 1986 and lives in Sandpoint with his 1957 bride, Jacquelynn.