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on July 25, 2008 at 2:40:56 pm


An Impromptu Closing Address to the


Home Education Conference, London 1999,


by John Taylor Gatto




"The fourth


purpose" opening address


Q&A Session with JTG



I have a formal presentation which I abandoned last night, having got to know you a little bit yesterday.  I think one prepared speech is enough, but I have a bunch of notes and a bunch of observations here.




The first observation I want to make is that my hat’s off to Malcolm Muckle for organising this.  I know how much work is involved (applause).  And my second observation is my hat’s off to you.  The level of intelligence here is just unbelievable.  I was already in awe because you invented the language I speak.  I talked to you yesterday, but to find serious ideas just bandied about as if they were gossip is so - Jesuit! (laughs).




Anyway, I thought I’d close my part of this meeting and my first knowledge of you English friends with making some remarks about trust, about fear, and about miracles, and as I say it’s not a prepared talk so if I hesitate a lot it’s because my alcohol-damaged brain is saying ‘what word fits here?’ 




But trust first.  Very slowly and very reluctantly as I taught school I came to trust the students I was teaching.  Now I say very slowly, and very reluctantly because I was trained in the Galtonian Bell Curve at two fine American universities.  I was absolutely certain that the specialist world had evolved out of thousands of years of human chaos, and that I was in the short time I was with these school-kids the shepherd and the superintendent of an orderly system just as Calvin wanted.  But my German grandfather the printer had taught me before the Jesuits did to challenge assumptions, and he told me the easiest way to be sure of what’s true, he said is not to believe too quickly, but keep your eyes and your ears open, and truth will talk to you, and it will correct the rules that you’re living by. 




So in the course of school teaching, where probably because I like people, and don’t recognise childhood as a separate category, I’m sorry to say, because I meet a lot of developmental folk who I like, and even respect, but I have no developmental pedagogy.  I think by the time you are six or seven you are probably ready to understand the truth of the world, and certainly by the time you’re twelve your mind is as sophisticated as it’s ever going to be.  It’s just that we can prevent the contents of the mind from having anything too sophisticated... 




Anyway one day when I was in seventh heaven because I had forced on my eighth grade classes, they’re all thirteen in New York, I forced an unexpurgated Moby Dick on them, and I loved the story so much, and I loved the complex threads of the story so much, that my own enthusiasm I see now looking back, was carrying the class through.  And in fact it was creating a literati amongst the unlikeliest raw material, but not everybody was sold by Melville, or Victorian Calvinism, and I recall that at one point I was lecturing about the Calvinist undertones that run through Melville’s masterpiece, and I was talking about Calvin himself, and about Luther, and about the Protestant Reformation, and a twelve or thirteen year old boy, named Dick Smith fell asleep, and fell out of his chair with a tremendous crash that hit the ground.  And we all stopped thinking about John Calvin, and we looked at Smith there on the floor.  And I had come out of a Scotch-Irish system where brutality is your first resort at times of trouble, and I knew that if I went over and kicked the soles of his feet and humiliated him in front of his friends, that that would not happen again.  But as I was headed in that direction, Smith woke up, looked at me and said “I don’t need to study this stuff, I learned it in third grade”, and I said “what do you mean you stupid boy, that you learned about predestination in third grade?” - and he said “I learned there were these women who knitted your fate” - he was talking about the Norns out of Scandinavian mythology, and the Fates out of Greek mythology, and then while I was catching my breath ‘cause I hadn’t seen the connection between Calvinistic predestination, and this ancient idea that comes out of Scandinavia on one hand and Greece on the other he said “and I learned it in fifth grade biology”, I said “WHAT?!”  He said “I learned you have these genes, and these chromosomes and you can’t escape; they say what colour your hair’s going to be, and how you scratch your nose, and all the rest” - and in that instant, I swear to you in that instant I realised that what the boy had written on the floor was the PhD thesis out of which he could have made a living for the rest of his life, and risen to the heights of academic wealth.  He had linked together the world of pagan prehistory, and modern science with Calvin’s predestination, and of course they are three separate ways to say the identical thing - that you’re stuck with it.




Well, at that moment I went home and I said to my wife, ‘cause I didn’t expect to remain a school teacher, I said “from now on I’m going to assume that anyone in this class, I’m never going to look at a school record,  I’m going to assume that everybody can learn everything, and that there’s no difference between the worst and the best.  And whether that’s true or not, I will guarantee you that operating from that assumption the successes came thick and fast, that bonding with the kids so that I wasn’t persecuted, and everyone who followed the scientific approach of developmental levels and damage done by class placement so you would modify your presentation.  The people who corrected their language so that the children could understand, the way I’ve spoken to you this weekend is the way that for nearly thirty years I spoke to thirteen year old kids.  Did they understand what I was saying?  I don’t know, but they certainly understood a lot more than my wife does.




So I began to trust that the kids could do anything - again it was a deliberate decision, I was aware that realistically kid X wouldn’t be able to do Y, but I said this is my operating premise.  Almost immediately the culture of schooling that was destroying my friends who taught, and was destroying kids and families, nearly vanished, or at least we kept it at bay.  The remaining twenty eight or twenty nine years of my teaching career I explored how far you could trust kids, including the very worst classes from the very worst ghetto schools, and I never discovered the answer to how far you could trust them, no matter how far I pushed them into what kinds of complex endeavours, they rose to the challenge.  Now I think unfortunately that conveys a collective impression, and I always dealt with kids as individuals.  I’ve told them that from the beginning of the year, and I would reinforce it over and over again, and I would spend my summers trying to meet the parents of the kids, or their brothers, or anyone who knew something about them, so that I would understand who they were, and where they wanted to go.  On the very first day of every school term, I would say “write down three things you want to learn, but if anyone says anything academic at all, if they want to know about iambic pentameter”, I said, “you’re in hot water with me.  Three things you want to know: there’s no barrier at all.  You can say I want to know how to rob a bank, or how to build a gun, anything at all you want to know, and I’ll guarantee you that by the end of the year you will be well on your way to knowing how to do one of those things, because I will move heaven and earth to see to it that you learn how to do one of those things.” 




In thirty years only one boy, his name was Brian Dense built a gun, ha ha, but it worked! (laughter)  Brian’s now I think the assistant film director of the New York University Film Library, and Brian ran away from High School - if there are any Norwegians in the room you’ll probably recognise the thing.  He ran away from High School to apprentice himself to the leading Norwegian film director, a feller named Sven Erik Borgia who unfortunately died a couple of years ago, and he helped Sven Erik make films when other kids were going to college.  Even though he had no background and no family connection with the film industry.  The reason he wanted to build a gun as his project was he was being persecuted heavily by other kids, and he said “I don’t want to shoot them, but I do want to let them know that that possibility exists” (laughter).  And he wanted to buy a gun, and I said “Brian, if you buy a gun you’ll leave a paper trail behind.”  I said “what you want to do is build a gun and then there’s no record the gun ever existed.”  And fortunately it’s so easy to do, it’s just a tube with a pin that goes into the back of a bullet, that’s why gun control is bizarre. 




We didn’t need it to get rid of the Brits (laughter), and that’s of course why, if I could deviate, the way Italians always do: the fellow who asked a question about law, or suggested that law’s an important part, I felt a tremendous sympathy for.  I don’t think you can conceivably understand what it means to be English unless you understand British common law which created this huge body of local cases, which for most of your history overthrew what’s called positive law by lawyers.  How can you understand the United States until you look at the Bill of Rights, and find out that free speech is guaranteed?  That the right to possess weapons - is anything more radical in the history of this planet in law, than a law, saying the common ordinary people have the right to possess deadly weapons?  It is the key to the difference between the United States and every other country in the world.  And I know that 10,000 people are shot - that deaths are caused by that - and on balance I think it’s a fair trade to put the fear in the government, that was just the reason that’s in the American Second Amendment.   That’s not to defend your home, that’s to defend you against the government that wants to quarter troops in your home, that wants to impose a state religion on you and a whole variety of other things.


But back to trust.  And of course the people who wrote the Bill of Rights trusted ordinary people with deadly weapons, with free speech and with eight other privileges that, while other countries have enjoyed, no one ever bothered to write down.  Now the experience of the last thirty years in my life has been that the American government is desperately trying to remove those rights or corrupt them.  In the militia movements and militant homeschool movements, not all homeschoolers understand this.  But you have to understand the law, whether you agree or disagree or have any sympathy with what I’ve just said.  And this gentleman said that children have a right to understand the law - how could anyone deny that?  It’s not something that will happen if you wait until you’re twenty one. 




I would say you have to look at your own culture and say “What has our genius been?”  And then the children growing up in a culture that’s spun off institutions have a right to understand that.  One of the great joys I’ve had in the two days I’ve been with you is listening not to what you said, although I did that with respect and interest, but listening to the musical accents.  I mean it was like a great organ and the English language was coming from such a variety of keys here. Language has to be the great British gift to the planet.  Literature has to be your great gift to the western world.  How could we even understand stories if we hadn’t had British literature? I know that the French did some things and I sort of like Don Quixote and the Germans believe that they’ve got the secret, but you and I know - you and I know... (laughter)




Anyway, so by trusting the kids even when I didn’t like what they were doing, and I did say “I will help you do what you want to do, but I reserve the right to argue with you about its merit or its morality,” and I did - I did that often, my life was made much easier.




Now I’d like to talk to you about fear and what would make your lives much easier.  The great weapon that’s been against your revolution, and that’s surely what it deserves to be called, is fear. And the fear comes from people who like you as well as people who think of you as hostile elements in their own idea of the future.  The idea that gathers itself in “Will my child be able to make a living and support themselves?”  Sometimes I’m criticised in places ‘cause I tend to emphasise how easy it is to make money or to support yourself.  It isn’t very hard to do, and I give examples of that.  All some people want to hear is a better balanced presentation, but I’ve learned from speaking to slightly over seven hundred audiences in the last seven years - all different, no two have ever been alike - that this great fear runs through all of them, even if it’s unvoiced: “Will my kid be able, and am I crazy since my own family, my neighbours are leaning on me?”  No, but you bear the burden of leaders in any kind of social change.  You’re showing people, by your grit and your stamina and the fun you have and the defeats that you rise up afterwards and press on from, that your way is much righter than their way.  So you have this huge amount to teach. 




When I’m hired by school districts to talk, or by groups of superintendents to talk, which happens with some degree of regularity, I always tell them “are you out of your mind?  Here is this endless laboratory of experimentation, with every kind of kid under the sun, and you’ve put this wall up and hidden yourself away from what they have to teach you.”  What I would do is secretly take some of that money that’s squirreled away in the budget that the best accountant has trouble finding.  I’d say pay these people secretly to come in after hours, and you keep your mouths shut, and let them tell you.  In fact one of the ideas that occurred to me is making a proposition - could I go and sit in the audience, and we could line you all up here on the stage.  I’d be hypnotised, but of course it would take a while wouldn’t it? (laughter)  So trust your kids, and understand what you do understand, that making mistakes is what Frank Lloyd Wright did.  All his great homes are falling down now because he wouldn’t listen, because he’s got to put metal rods in the concrete.  Not Frank didn’t have to do that!




I heard or read in a British paper since I’ve been here, so it has been the last couple of days, and I wonder how many of you know 40% of all British males, 40% have a police record that travels with them, (so its not a minor thing that the judge can say, you know, you do community service), and 10% of all British females. This is cause to march from wherever your conference seat is and just throw them into the Thames there.   That American prison populations have quintupled in the last 30 years - quintupled mind you!  It’s a huge business that stock services are recommending that you invest in private prison services.  This is not a measure of how decadent or rotten human beings have become, but how decadent and rotten our governments have become, and how essential they decide that control over our lives is.




I’d like to move from this to some miracles that I saw in the British press and then some miracles that I saw my own kids do, because what my kids did under the duress of confinement would be much, much easier for your kids.  I have three miracles here from the British press.  I’ll start with this one: ‘Secret Village Spotted By Pilot Wins Reprieve From Planners’.  Have any of you heard of this? (Several ‘yes’ voices from audience)  It’s just unbelievable!  An architect, an architectural historian and about twenty other people set up a village five years ago in one of the state parks - The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.  They set up a little village which was totally self-sustaining, they didn’t make forays to the supermarket and stuff.  Here’s a picture of one of the guys. They built everything: water supplies, sewage system and, mind you, the government didn’t find them for five years. It was one of these geodesic survey pilots who looked down and said “There’s a village down there, but it’s not on the map.” But the great and radical thing about this is not that they were discovered and ordered to tear down the village, it’s that they fought the order to tear down the village and they don’t have to. I mean, isn’t that a miracle? Does that tell you that, behind what appears to be this implacable, organic state that’s monolithic, that in fact there’s all sorts of cracks, it seems.




Here’s the second miracle: this was a couple of weeks ago and I paid four dollars for this newspaper in Spain.  Here’s a couple aged seventy three and seventy two in Leicestershire who were just given forty thousand pounds by their local council to modernise their rural home.  Now get ready for this!  For the last forty years they’ve cooked on an open stove that provided the heat for their bungalow, they ate home-grown vegetables and freshly-caught fish, and they drank and washed in water from a garden spring.  They had no electricity, no flush toilets and here is the miracle part of this: not that they were able to do that for forty years and now they’re elderly and still kicking, and not the miracle that their neighbours are going to give them forty grand, it’s that the man said yesterday - get ready for this - “We have never had very much, but we always had each other and that’s all we ever wanted really.”  Can you believe that a man aged seventy three would say that about marriage, for whoever created the marriage vow believed that ‘For better, for worse; sickness and in health, till death do us part’.  They believed that. Isn’t this what The Happiness Survey was about?  It said if you have good relationships, and health, and if you have satisfying work, then you’re as happy as you’re ever going to be, and adding money to those three qualities won’t make you happier, it will make you richer.  And then you’ll have to spend time worrying. 




So that’s the second miracle from your press and here is the third miracle.  I hope some of you read this.  This is from the Wednesday March 24th Daily Telegraph and it’s about an Eskimo girl aged 26 who’s making 5,000 dollars an hour in The United States. That’s not the miracle because the Yanks have always been stupid about money!  This girl grew up in Siberia, she spoke some bizarre, forgotten language Buryat, she comes from a nomadic people of Mongolian origin and she was a dedicated Leninist at the age of sixteen out in Siberia, approving of the Siberian prison system. 




Now it’s ten years later.  Here’s what’s happened to her in the last ten years.  The owner of a local fashion house, according to The Telegraph, but the absurdity of that would become clear if you say “Well wait a minute, they’re in some obscure hamlet in Siberia.  ‘The owner of a local fashion house’, what could that mean?”, suggested to this girl that she had what it takes to be a high-fashion model. OK that’s step one. The town was Ulan Ude in case you ever get there (laughter). So at age sixteen, a Chinese businessman approached this fashion co-ordinator of Ulan Ude, and he said “If you assemble a group of girls, I’ll take you to China and make you rich, we will enter the new Chinese capitalist system.” But in fact what his plan was, was to assemble a house of prostitution, and when the ladies got to Northern China bankrupt they would have nowhere to turn. But in fact they broke his nose and now they were penniless in the middle of China.  So this girl said “We’ll put on a show” - it sounds like an old Micky Rooney movie - “and earn money to get out of China.” And in fact they put on a show and another show and they were passed from village to village. Sixteen years old - I guess some of you have sixteen year old daughters - and they got out of China. 




Now she’s back in Ulan Ude and she decides to move to Paris, because she’s told by this woman - well that was an unfortunate mistake - that Paris is where the models are created.  Every modelling agency in Paris rejected the girl as too weird.  She had no money, she had no friends, she slept on floors.  She’s five foot eleven and she’s tall, she’s very, very thin and of course, according to this article, she’s an Eskimo so it’s hard to find cultural similarities. Now she’s at eighteen in Paris and she’s been rejected by every modelling agency.  Wouldn’t you give up your idea of modelling? I don’t know what exactly you do back in Ulan Ude, but I would certainly get out of Paris fast.  No, she got herself a visa to the United States, landed in New York with exactly one change of clothing and the telephone number of a modelling agency.  Well you can get those out of a phone book, they’re all listed under ‘M’.  I mean, is this the classic creation of a tragedy and a failure?  Two weeks later she was the cover model for ‘Vogue’ and ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, was modelling on the stage at the Oscar ceremonies, and was hailed as the world’s first Eskimo supermodel (laughs). 




You might be a cynic how people get jobs in this business, but here is a lady who had no contacts, no money, and had already been rejected by the city of Paris.  What would propel her to go to The United States and be humiliated further?  Fortunately she tells us.  She talks soberly and carefully about the need to take care of her family back in Ulan Ude, and her family isn’t two or three people, it’s two or three hundred people.  She said: “When something is not going right with my family, I feel it right away - my whole family.” She pauses “and there are hundreds of them.”  So her money is sent directly back to Siberia to support her relatives. “That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. That’s the only way they survive. There are shortages of everything.  I’m responsible for myself, my family, my people.  I really feel that.  I was chosen.”  I mean, don’t you want to hug this lady immediately and say “Here’s the human spirit arriving out of this unlikely background of a Siberian communist education, an early attempt, not to recruit her, but to impress her as a prostitute in China, and being shut out by the Parisian model community.”




I run in to miracles - the minute you sensitise yourself to see this, they’re all around you.  They happen all the time.  This common, ordinary boy who was a ‘C’ student and was slated for nothing in particular in his life, is a lawyer now.  Not that I think that’s the best thing to be, but seventy five per cent of all the lawyers on planet earth are in The United States.  I don’t know if you know that, but I got that fact from The Wall Street Journal, so anyway... anyway that he was able to prosecute a legal case successfully and become a lecturer distributed around New York City was a miracle. 




Let me show you another miracle and Pat Farenga knows this girl - I don’t know if Pat’s in the room, but Pat met her briefly at Carnegie Hall in 1991.  You can’t see this, but it shows a picture of a thirteen year old girl with blond hair standing at a microphone speaking to The New York City Board Of Education.  What you can’t know is that The Board Of Education meets late at night in New York City, you have to book an appointment to speak before them far in advance, and it’s about a seventeen mile trip by subway into an area that’s considered by the New York press very, very dangerous.  And what is the girl saying to the New York City Board Of Education?  She is giving them what we would say in The States is ‘holy hell’ for completely stripping the kids in public schooling of any idea that work is something other than what someone else gives you to do.  In other words, the tremendous and brilliant entrepreneurial tradition that the United States had at one time aimed to give everyone an independent livelihood - that’s still true of the Amish - the aim is not to get any-and-everyone work, it’s to give everyone, including the brain-damaged, an independent livelihood, has been muted.  The Board Of Education reprinted 25,000 copies of her speech, distributed it all over the state and for all I know all over the country, in order to demonstrate that the charges that kids didn’t learn how to write in New York City had to be false because here was this damning indictment. 




That was at thirteen.  When the girl was eighteen years old she hitch-hiked to Florida, talked her way onto a private plane - this is very easy to do, by the way, even in England.  There are lots of private planes like yachts that will take you on as a crew or just for company and drop you somewhere, you just have to go and present yourself. Probably helps if you’re younger, but who knows?  If you can cook, any age.  Anyway, she got to Brazil. Now this is so indescribable, because I knew this girl as a kid in class. She got to Brazil, went up the Amazon, lodged with (no advance preparations) lodged with one of these prehistoric tribes that was being destroyed because the Brazilian government was building a power dam on the river that they drew their sustenance from above their village, and wrote a book called ‘Dam The Rivers, Damn The People’ that was sponsored by The World Wildlife Association.  I think it was reprinted in seven languages, and on the basis of that she got a free PhD from the University of California.  But she had virtually no time to go to classes because she was in constant demand around the world as a lecturer in a very, very obscure field: the effect of dam-building on primitive tribes. 




That was B. J. Cummings and at thirteen she came to me cursing her mother.  B. J. was from a one-parent family, her father was gone somewhere and there was no contact with the father, they had very little money, they lived in Harlem because that was what they could afford.  I asked her whether she had any trouble being a white girl growing up in black Harlem.  She said: no, she didn’t have any trouble.  And by the way you’re about to meet a Greek boy who said the same thing to me. Caucasian, Greek fellow grew up in Harlem - same reason, family didn’t have money to pay the rent anywhere else - and I said “did you ever have trouble?” and he said “No.”  So challenging assumptions is a big part of trusting children, it’s a big part of throwing the fear away that I talked about.




But let me get back to B. J.  She cursed her mother because her mother had told her she could go to Paris alone if she could raise the money to go, and B. J. was all excited till she found out what it cost to go to Paris and live there for, y’know, a month or whatever. She said “My mother lied to me!”  And I said “Well, I don’t know how you could say that.”  And she said “Because no one will give a job to a kid to earn that kind of money.”  And I said “You’d have a hard time earning that kind of money if you did have a job.”  I said “What about a small business?  There you can make an unlimited amount of money.” And she said “Kids can’t go into business!”  And I said to her what my grandfather said to me: “The whole secret of business is finding out what people want and giving it to them, either cheaper or better, or simply being the only one offering it to them.  At that point” I said, “No one cares how old you are.  No one will turn you away if you go to a wholesaler with money in your hand, because you’re ten years old!  They’ll take the money and say ‘What do you want kid?’”  So B. J. was released from school for quite a long time - now I can’t remember ‘cause it’s so long ago, but it had to be a period of a couple of weeks - to study the West Side, New York community and find out what it needed, or what one part of it needed. And she came back finally and said “There are a tremendous number of rich girls at a college called Barnard, right across the street from New York.  They come from all over the country and all over the world.  They hate to leave New York City on holidays and they’re always talking about ‘if we can send a nice, thoughtful gift home to the folks and say that we have homework to do over the holidays, then maybe we can get away with staying!’”  She said, “But they’re always complaining that this mass-produced stuff doesn’t look like any thought was put into it.  I have an idea for a ‘thoughtful gift’ business.”  “What’s that?” - this is a thirteen year old girl!  She said “There are twenty four old age homes in a short compass of the West Side.  They charge four or five thousand dollars a month, so there’s hardly a bunch of poor people in those old age homes!”  She said “Those are accomplished people who have many, many skills. They’re used to being somebody.”  She said “I’m going to go around and see if I can build up a route with the ladies who will make scarves and matching hats for me, one-of-a-kind gifts.  I’ll take the lady’s picture, print her biography next to the gift, and I’ll sell ‘em for top dollar to these rich girls at Barnard’s as gifts.”  Well B. J. not only made enough money to take herself to Paris that summer, she made enough money to invite her mother along as her guest! (laughter)  That was B. J. at thirteen, can you now see why she would have the confidence at eighteen to hitch hike her way up the Amazon River and write a book about the effects of dams on ...?  I mean, we’re talking about miracles that happen around us all the time. 




Another friend of mine who’s also known to Pat Farenga and spoke at Carnegie Hall, Roland Legiardi-Laura is the partner of a director who got a fine review in yesterday’s London Times for a movie called ‘Slam’ about a young black kid who uses poetry to rise out of his bitterness.  So, this fellow’s not only a partner, but the guy who did ‘Slam’ has agreed to think about doing a three-part documentary, three ninety-minute parts, about the school world.  What it’s like, where it came from, and what the alternatives are, and I would certainly count on all of you to still be alternatives if we raise the couple of million bucks.  But here is two thirds of the working script, not the shooting script. 




And let me tell you about Roland.  Roland’s parents both died before he was nineteen years of age.  They left him no inheritance at all.  They left him 15,000 dollars, that’s what he had in the world, and he used it like Jack and the Beanstalk.  He used it to buy a share in a condemned building on the Lower East Side.  The roof was gone, the walls were gone, the plumbing had been ripped out and sold for drug-money, and when I encountered him as a grown man for the first time, wearing an old bomber jacket, Roland said to me that he never intended, in his entire life, he would never wear a neck-tie and he would make his living from poetry.  And you know it is to weep what the prospects are for a poet making his living.  And I know that if you have children who are drawn toward poetry, that you really have... ... anyway, anyway, so let me tell you what happened with Roland and poetry. 




He would read at churches and read at poetry functions, and you know the top price paid for a printed poem is about five dollars.  And this went on into his early thirties, and then one day he was reading poems in a church in Lower Manhattan and the guy reading poems after him was the Minister of the Treasury for Nicaragua under the Sandanista revolution, Ernesto Cardinal, and Ernesto Cardinal said “But poetry is the national sport of Nicaragua!  Everyone does it!  Washer women, bus drivers do it!  Come to Nicaragua!”  Now where was he going to get the money to go to Nicaragua when he could barely survive himself?  But the truth is, he got the money to go down, he was taken in by Cardinal and by Daniel Ortega, the President of the Country, he was put on a combat team in the mountains against the Contras, which were being paid for by the American CIA, not to fight for Nicaragua, but because the soldiers were busy in their spare time writing poems.  And one soldier in his film, which he did get made and won nine international film awards, one soldier says, “You know, this is hot work!”  He said “I’ve not had time for more than a quatrain, but here it is!”  And a washer woman said the same thing.  She says, y’know, “Senor, this doesn’t leave me much luxury for making couplets here and there or two.  His film ‘Azulg’ made Roland an internationally known and respected person, even though it only showed in art houses in a few cities - it probably showed in Boston too! - on the basis of that, you’re ready for the next level up. 




Now he’s in his middle-thirties, they buy a building from the City of New York for one dollar, because the building’s worthless.  Roland, meanwhile, to survive has taught himself carpentry, plumbing, wiring, all illegal of course ‘cause he’s not a member of the union, but he can do all these things.  He restores the building, it becomes ‘The Nuyorican Poets Cafe’ which surely must be one of the hot night clubs for the last five years, in the planet.  I was flying American airlines a couple of months ago and I opened the flight magazine and there was a five-page do on ‘The Nuyorican Poets Cafe’.  You see, the film that’s around London now ‘Slam’, it’s about a poetry competition held at the ‘Nuyorican Poets Cafe’, and based on that the invitations to Mick Jagger’s - that’s the only English name I could pick out - the invitations to everywhere, the respect, even the money came in.  Roland’s quite wealthy now, at least by a personal standpoint, and now he wants to make a film about schooling, so we’re working on that.




If we had, and we don’t, we have no more time, if we had more time I could tell you miracles that, if I could shake every one of you and I wouldn’t need to shake many of you, you would know miracles happening around you too.  Miracles, maybe, that you caused.  And I guess I’ll say goodbye to you now!  It’s been a great privilege being with you!  God bless, good luck!  Our paths will cross again.  I have no pounds left, so the beer’s on you!




(Laughter, long applause.)


reproduced with kind permission.



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