Jun 9, 2015

THE OTHERSIDE OF THE VOLCANO - Part Thirteen: ¨...throughout my lifetime, I have loved both ¨straight¨ and ¨gay¨ friends...I mix socially and integrate well emotionally.

Greetings From San Jose, California

Everywhere I looked there was mostly fun early to mid 1960's.  I was full of creative delight being a full-schedule Art Major at San Jose State and I was delighted with my ¨part time¨ job at L. Hart and Son department store, downtown San Jose, main branch.  My parents paid for ALL of my college expenses, all of them plus a weekly check would arrive for incidentals.  My ¨incidentals¨ were growing into weekly trips to San Francisco, bar bills, clothes, parties and restaurants. I used the extra money earned at Hart's to pay for my ¨entertainment¨ which was a never-ending event.  How many young, teen into early twenties, Gay men have their first dating experiences while making new friends and finding their way into learning how ¨to be¨ included in Gay and Heterosexual society?  I was lucky, I was given the gift of meeting people who added much to my school, work, social life...IMMEDIATELY!  New friends, just like me, seemed to be emerging all around me. Friendships flurished as people ¨came out¨ to one another, sometimes openly and sometimes secretly, but there we were, TOGETHER!  A huge new dimension of fellowship layered on in my life.  I would later know, throughout my life  I have had both ¨straight¨ and ¨gay¨ dear friends. I  am mixed socially and emotionally. I like being part of being integrated with everyone...but, it's true, LGBTI people are greatly admired by me.  We are quite the brave lot, we have positive tenacity and strive to survive ourselves and others (we always have).

Immediately I wanted to do a great job working at Hart's.  I liked retail. I liked waiting on customers and I was a good salesperson, stock person and make-shift display person too (we set up sales and rearranged/merchandised the floor continously with ¨best sellers¨ or featured ¨new¨ merchandise). The Divisional Mens Merchandise Manager was a seasoned New York/NYC department store executive, Harry Schlisky. He was brilliant stock/sales planner/lead buyer and his wife, Vivian,  was a ¨pottery maker¨ who was lovely, funny and a fully active artist. Some of us younger/student coworkers were invited to their home for meals and parties and they were gracious, ¨with it¨ and FUN! The Men's Furnishings Buyer was also a married man who I really liked working with.  Nick Marafino was a tall and dashing Italian-American who was loaded with merchandising talent and energy...lot's of wholesome energy. My job was originally working part time in the Mens's Furnishings Department,  Fall into Christmas Season 1962.  I worked 20+ hours a week and I worked extra hard because I wanted management to keep me on after the Christmas rush.  They did

BUSY/BUSY it was as Hart's Department Store as it was quite the volume operation and the weekly sales, door busters and moonlight madness, White Sales, Beauty Salon sales, Cosmetic Guest Stylists (Charles of the Ritz, Helena Rubenstein, Elizabeth Arden N.Y. salon representatives) and  special openings/etc., were wildly successful in this famous old downtown San Jose department store.  We, all of us, sometimes could only keep selling and we didn't have time to replenish the stock.  L. Hart and Son gave away S & H Green Stamps too. There were endless lines everywhere. The Giftwrapping department, Green Stamp redemption, downstairs restaurant...the place was a merchants delight.  Customers quite literally were backed up and waiting at the doors to enter most mornings.  Hart's was the #1 advertiser, always FULL Page Three, in the San Jose Mercury News (a Ritter Newspaper).  Customers raced accross the Main Floor after the BELL rang! Then, down the central staircase to the Home Furnishings, Gifts and Housewares and/or ¨Budget¨ Departments and U.S. Post Office branch or over to the bank of elevators that would take them up/down all three floors (and to a walk-up 3rd floor mezzanine too).  The place was like New York department stores on Herald Square...Macy's and Gimbels, but smaller.

Mr. Alex Hart, grandson of founder, Leopold Hart, was President of L. Hart and Sons.  He was a dignified, attractive and generous man.  He was our leader, a civic leader, we loved him and I think everyone did. He had many good and innovative merchandise ideas regularly.  I learned, I experimented and our sales went sky-high...profits too. Mr. Hart was a teacher to the young assistant buyers and held a weekly class in his stunning office (framed/signed and very personally dedicated photos from the STARS and a Zebra print sofa too)!  I was dazzled. He took us every week to the Garden City Hofbrau for lunch after our training session..delicious and just accross Market street.

 A.J. Hart II was one of the children of several generations of HART notable citizens who were admired for their hard work and generous donations as they helped build the thriving community of San Jose, Santa Clara county. Hart's was the biggest (and highest volumne) department store between San Francisco and Los Angeles!

Mr. Harts brother, Brooke Hart, had been the victim of murderous kidnappers years earlier in 1933 and I don't think Alex Hart ever recovered from the loss of his much loved brother.  Workers and clients at Hart's Department Store rarely spoke about the tragedy...never openly.  He mentioned it once to me. Some of the longtime Retail Clerks Union employees I worked with shared the events of 1933 with me...Brooke and Alex Hart and their sisters were loved by all and the community reacted passionately.  


Within a few years I became first an ¨Executive Trainee/Mens Division¨ and later became Buyer of Stationery/Greeting Cards and Gifts at Hart´s while still attending Art School. Mr. Hart, became a friend. On ¨off duty¨ hours he became  ¨Alex¨ during the many elegant and fun dinner parties he hosted at his home off the Alameda and then the Rose Garden, San Jose.  Delicious moments in my young life where excellent food, beautiful table settings, cocktails before dinner and singing at the Grand Piano afterward were featured treats.  I became civilized (mostly) when dining at the home of Alex Hart. Alex was a very well known person-famous-celebrity and a gracious host too in Northern California.  Alex often had very famous guests, from retail world giants and famous movie STARS and others as his weekend guests.  Important film executives and other well-known professionals and politicos visited his home for parties.  Sometimes I would be included too.

I was often among several young people who were gifted with kind and welcoming invitation to his home for spectacular, large and small, social events that were way beyond-my-young-imagination (and everyday dreams of splendid/elegant living reality that included artwork by Picasso and other famosos and his home decorated by Hollywoods most famous interior designer to the STARS). I learned my very extra best manners, sense of style, merchandising savvy and the general way ¨to be¨ in my adultlife from Alex J. Hart. Today, again today I´m deeply touched and grateful because of the many kind and helpful words, acts and general ¨marketing¨ direction that Alex Hart offered to me. I remember well. 

Later in my retail progression, about two years after I moved away from San Jose and Hart´s, Mr. Hart discreetly supported my ongoing retail career by offering a unsolicited personal reference that resulted in me securing a very prestiges, BIG JOB at another Department Store in another city. As it turned out, Alex Hart was a very close friend/business acquaintance with the President of a chain of very fine/high-end fashion department stores, GOLDWATER'S/ARIZONA  (Associated Dry Goods) where I had been presented as a candidate for buyer. I got the job, it was a very ¨big¨ opportunity for me. I´ve never forgotten the many kind deeds of Alex Hart.

San Jose, California was/is a wonder of a place: http://geography.howstuffworks.com/united-states/geography-of-san-jose.htm

to be continued


June Butler said...

Thanks, Leonardo. A very good read.

Leonard said...

Thank you, June! I consider you a very experienced authority with great merit in the ¨good read¨ department! Mil gracias

JCF said...

Wow, it's all so Mad Men! (OBM) If I may ask, Len, how "out" were you at this time? Not to your parents, I'm guessing? How about Mr Hart?


In the past year or so, I learned of this infamous murder, and even more infamous LYNCHING, over at "Executed Today" (a blog which in itself I've learned of via your blog, Len). http://www.executedtoday.com/2013/11/26/1933-thomas-thurmond-john-holmes-lynching-st-james-park-san-jose/

While it happened many (er, several) decades before I was born, I was nevertheless SHOCKED that an activity I associate w/ the Deep South (i.e., a past all things violent and PRIMITIVE) could have happened so *comparatively* recently, and in my native Golden State. [FWIW, I asked my father about it---he would have been a young teenager in not-too-distant Fresno---but he didn't remember it.]

While in no way minimizing the pain of the murder to Alex Hart (et al Brooke Hart's loved ones), I'm nevertheless moved specifically by the lynching to say: Never Again!

Leonard said...


I went to San Jose State (instead of UCLA/one other) because I wanted to stop ¨being nice¨... somehow in my mind I thought I needed to break free and live a life that wasn't modeled after heterosexual interaction/bliss only...I knew I was Gay in High School/before but didn't allow my feelings to be expressed (because I specifically didn't want my reputation harmed or to point out the shame that I associated with being Gay)...I specifically remember my best friend in High School was extremely popular, atheletic, brilliant and good-looking...I refused any kind of intimacy with him and blundered by destroying our friendship with my awkward and drunken dodging of what I found later to be a natural, and wholesome, attraction. I confused myself and others with my unnatural blocking of very desireable relationships...at College I drank my shame away. It worked for me to some extent as I was very social but mostly very much of a drinker...later, at 35 I stopped drinking and I got far better in touch with my feelings and natural instincts for intimacy when I was SOBER. The difference was huge and that is why I am such a strong advocate for LGBTI issues (one of the main reasons is to distance ourselves, myself and others from the kind of shame that results in self-destructive behavior). About ¨AJH¨ , he was a divorced man, father of three great boys (whom we all knew from store rallies at holiday times when they were home from private school) and yes, a member of ALL communities...Mr. Hart was a leading citizen, divorced but quite famous as he had worked at one of the film studios in Hollwood as a song writer until his fathers death in 1943 (Alex became president of the store because Brooke was no longer alive). If you read the book ¨Swift Justice: Murder & Vengeance In A California Town¨ http://www.amazon.com/Swift-Justice-Murder-Vengeance-California/dp/0312089015 you will get a better sense of the absolute LOVE that was held in the community for the Hart's...although Brookes murder (he had just graduated from the University of Santa Clara) was in 1933 there was a REAL admiration and devotion to his memory when I worked at Hart's in 1962 and Alex had been president of Harts for 19 years already. As I mentioned in the chapter 13, Alex had many famous friends from the film/related industry and many visited him and favored him with store ¨personal appearance´ etc (new store openings). Alex was so NICE, helpful and quite sophisticated but NOT in a snobby way...he was very aware of his position in society and did the very best he could to maintain a low profile as a out-person at the time. He was not the only prominent citizen in San Jose at the same time who shared that challenge but Alex Hart handled it best of all. I did not have intimacy with him but I always loved and appreciated him greatly as a friend, leader and fellow human being who happed to be discreetly ¨Gay¨. The one time I heard him refer to his brothers death was when he mildly defended the hysterical behavior of the lynching by saying ¨the community was enraged for the horrible murder of my brother by two fellow citizens¨...I also heard him mention his brother quite fondly in rememberance as our private store label was : Brooke Hart. JCF, I think you would have loved Alex too...he was quite the charming and articulate man.

JCF said...

Ah, so Alex Hart was gay: sorry, I must have missed that (though perhaps got a bit of the implication).

I'm a couple decades younger than you, Len, where I *kind of* get The Closet (the big, social in-group version of that era), and kind of don't.

The weird thing, the culture seems to be moving again: from the World of the Closet, to the OUT-World, to the World of the Post-Closet ("I don't need to come out, I just love who I please {LGBT people, just assume I'm one of you, regardless who I f#ck}"). It's hard to keep up! ;-/

Leonard said...

I am trying to keep a keen eye on how things were and not how they are now...even between then and now I have much more left to tell in my chapters...from my very first chapter I mentioned how different I felt and thought I was and I knew it was best to keep that ¨outsider¨ inclination to myself. In one of my later chapters I mention I told my mother (when in High School ¨I need to go to a psychiarist because something is wrong with me¨...without comment she hugged me and then said, ¨You are fine, darling¨ and I knew she was right). When telling my story I don't feel I need to reveal all the names of everyone that I knew was Gay...that seems to me like playing some kind of sensationalist card...but, I do talk about being loved, being confused as to how ¨to be¨ Gay as the manuel had not been written, I had read ¨The Last of the Wine¨ and ¨City of Night¨...I loved the former and cringed at the latter. JCF, no doubt I will catch up with being ¨liberated¨ and ¨out¨ (and I would say for my time I was quite öut¨) but I valued my privacy too. Also, I have always lived in a mixed society/company as I didn´t ever feel drawn to live a strictly ¨Gay¨ life (in the Castro, West Hollwood or the Village)...I have most often lived in the ¨creative¨ areas of any town and as you know, I now live in a rural village and have explained my ¨circumstances¨ here too...more will be revealed.

JCF said...

Oh, I read "The Last of the Wine" about 10 years ago: didn't know it was a gay rite-of-passage! LOL [The scene where our narrator cuts his foot, w/ his Beloved there, and it's all INTENSE and yet at the same time Very Vague? I actually found it kind of melodramatically funny (which I'm sure was not the author's---blanking on her name---intention)]

I hope I'm conveying how much I'm enjoying the "Otherside of the Volcano" memoir, Len---please continue! :-)

Leonard said...

JCF, Mary Renault was the author. I adored her/it/them and didn't think they were anything but deep romance. She wrote many and I read them all...riveted. She was English and lived in South Africa.