Victor Herbert and Susan Goldstein
Interview ID: SFB000397
DescriptionSusan Goldstein (66) interviews her partner, Victor Herbert (82), about his unconventional life living around the world and then settling down in Berkeley in their relationship.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Victor Herbert
- Susan Goldstein
Recording LocationSan Francisco StoryBooth
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00:08 My name is Victor Herbert. Just like the composer my age is I have to work this one out 82.
00:19 Today's date is July 5th. 9. 2009 location is downtown San Francisco at the Jewish Museum and my relationship to my partner is it we've been together for 25 years in unmarried Bliss.
00:38 My name is Susan Goldstein. I'm 66. Today is July 5th 2009. We're in San Francisco and I'm Victor's partner.
00:51 Okay, Victor the first question I'd like to ask you is do you see a theme in your life?
00:58 There's a song we've all heard from relating to World War 1 which is how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen paree and that's basically the same in my life. I was not born on the farm. I was born in the hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, but this is Countryside and I was raised in the middle west and
01:26 I'm not a farmer type my parents were both professional middle-class people, college educated, but I do remember we moved around a lot because it was The Depression was coming on by the time I was starting school and after I finish the first grade we moved to the far suburbs and I was outside the city limits. Oh, my school was a little one-room schoolhouse.
01:58 And when I got there of the teacher said oh you in a second, but we don't have anybody in the second grade. So but we have two nice boys in the third grade. I'm sure you would like them very much. So I was immediately jumping a grade and I was in the third grade and by the way, a one-room schoolhouses have a great Advantage. I sat there and could listen to all the other classes cuz there's a bench at the front of the room just one room. And so I could hear everything was going on and I hope that gave me a better education but it also destroyed my life because by jumping the grade, I was always very very youngest person in every subsequent grade that I was in the shortest my senior year in high school. I got very excited because I just passed a five foot mark
02:51 But at the time I thought all of this good I'm ahead of the crowd. But when you look back on it now that I might have paid a price.
03:01 Any case I was a good student and I went to I went to University of Chicago two years and then the war came alive in the very last year of the war. I was in the Army for a year, and then they just charged me and I went to Swarthmore College.
03:25 I was I ran into a young man after I got out of college and waiting for the University of Chicago to start and he had just been kicked out of Swarthmore College because they found that he was living with him.
03:40 Girlfriend in an unauthorized trailer and what he says it was talk to me about this marvelous school, which is very small and rather Elite, and he said you only take two courses a year or semester and you meet in the professor's house, and this all sounded very exotic. So I wrote this worth more and I'm sure she only letter on file, and when should I will come to your college under certain conditions, and because of war was just ending in there were no men around I was accepted immediately when school was over everybody else knew what they were going to do with your life. I didn't I was just going from one place to another I went to college because everybody I didn't know anybody that didn't go to college.
04:33 Even though at that time only about 12% of high school graduates went to college. So I'd read all these marvelous books and school and we talked about everything all the culture of Europe in Paris and the artists in the cafes and what have you and I said, I think I'll take a look. So right after college I got on the first boat and went to Europe for a few weeks. And what kind of boat did you go on the Queen Elizabeth something like that?
05:08 It was very British and you didn't fly now we're talkin.
05:16 1948 I think and Ice everybody went by ship.
05:22 I went there for two or three months or so and I stayed for 25 years that you went to Paris and didn't come home. Well, I think one of the things in my life will be that.
05:37 Circumstance and accidents are the real controllers and what goes on a what am I?
05:47 College classmates was the music colleges and he wanted to sell music books to libraries and there hasn't been much contact with you or you know since since the late 30s and so he said well look around when you over there look around some bookstores to see whether there's some old books. You can send me that I can put in the catalogs the sound of the college libraries. So that's what I did for the next four years. My job was to go pee every bookstore in and this is a dream job for young youngster. Just out of college. I could go anywhere I want it is always a bookstore everywhere you want to go and so pretty soon. I'm falling kind of in love with you up which is easy to do.
06:42 And Monday, I think I was about 30 years old. I said I'm just bouncing around here having a good time. I think I better go back to America and get a real job and become a real person and I'm just sort of an international bum out having a good time making my own living.
07:03 On my way back. I went to stop in a Paris. I got rid of my car and and the flat that I lived in. All right. I was sitting to say goodbye to all my friends in the parish Cafe.
07:15 And one of my friends said, oh, I've got a I've got a suitcase here in it. I have to take it to Errol Flynn Who's down in Spain?
07:24 And why don't you come along and I said well Spain's on the way to America.
07:29 So we went down there and found out Arrowhead already left Spain and gone to Tangiers. Well Tangiers is on the way to America. So we went there and I spent two or three weeks. He had a yacht there and every day the international movie crowd would come on and everybody sit around every day and get me I said if I go back to Chicago
07:58 There's not going to be any movies to Hertz. There's not going to be the yacht's you're not going to be any 10 Shooters. And so I turned right around and went back to Paris. And what did you do for work when you got back to Paris? I closed up the Bookshop just about then and which is why I was in the sense going back to America and I read in the paper. I was thinking, how could I stay here? And I read in the paper something about mutual funds.
08:34 And I listened back in 1950.
08:39 For 5 or something like that, nobody's heard of mutual funds as we have today, but I was walking down the street and here is where the accident of Life takes place.
08:52 They're sitting in the cafe is someone I know an American who sells insurance. So I stopped and I Said Fred what do you know about mutual funds?
09:06 He said I don't know anything about mutual funds but my friend Bernie cornfeld does and Bernie who subsequently became quite famous and Infamous was just starting his little mutual fund company in Europe and I went over to see him and we hit it off. And so I spent the next I suppose the next 10 years of my life in the mutual fund world and it was a new product. It was a marvellous product the market went up every single year that time of and so pretty soon. We were all kind of millionaires and having a good time.
09:47 And then
09:50 When David company crashed this was a magic company going up and it was a magic company coming down and suddenly I said well.
10:00 Maybe that's the signal now. I can go back to America.
10:04 No, this is the 1970s. So I did did you go to India first? I'd like to hear about India.
10:13 Yes, everybody was going to India time to Remember The Beatles went to India. Everybody went to India and I said, well it so hot country and it's a terrible place and they're poor people dying on the streets who in the world would want to go to India.
10:31 And but I had several friends insane. Don't come we're having a good time and I didn't want to go for a couple of weeks going to India check it off the list. Then we can go on to the rest of my life. Well, I fell in love with India. It was a marvelous thing. It was a magical world. It was a surprise to you that you fell in love with it yet total surprise and I thought it was ready to fall off the planet and I found it was a vibrant. They've been around for three or four thousand years colorful. The food was delicious and
11:05 It was just at 8.
11:08 It was a different world from somebody who comes from America where everything is is a lot of work a lot of achievements get done. We have goals in life. And we we sort of have progressed in India. They don't have prograis what they have is survived. They've learned how to survive for 3,000 years any case
11:33 Got a new sense of life was not just achieving things you had to figure out a way of of surviving in a minion minion for way and that was the beginning of going to a lot of workshops and was 1970s.
11:51 And I did I went to California on a visit to my deslyn and I suddenly realized that the new world the more interesting world was no longer Paris and London than what have you the new world was California and the growth of movements in the excitement of the 1960s and 70s. When I first met you, I remember one of the things that you said was that a problem you had was that you had led an interesting life and
12:21 I think I'm still trying to figure out what that means. We met at a conference in Colorado Allergy Association and what I think I meant by that is that
12:41 If you and this happened to me when I came back to America and people who said who you know, who are you and I would say, well I live in Paris sure. I produce new some documentaries got involved with the theater and and they said well, that's all in good. But that's what you do. But who are you and I was just beginning to make this distinction between what you do and who you are is in a specially in America. It's very easy to think that what you do is who you are.
13:17 Once you make the distinction, you see that we're talking about two different things.
13:25 What I what I would do is talk about all the interesting things I've done in my life, which is avoiding the whole question of who are you? What what should you be doing with yourself?
13:40 Rather than what what new what new stories? You should be telling about your life.
13:47 So when you came to California were you thinking now? I need to create some new stories.
13:54 Yes, I think I think the workshops worked on me and it made me realize that my life and I'm 50 years old and I'm single I've had I've been so busy having a good time. Then I haven't noticed that I don't have a type network of I was so strange cuz I move around alot. I went to 13 different schools when I was going to school so I don't even know who my schoolmates were.
14:28 And living in Europe everybody. I met their they're passing through and their lives as well as the International Community and then in London Paris and what have you and so suddenly I realized it.
14:45 Some people say that they should be really somebody else in your life. That's so great importance and it never occurred to me that I was free. I could move around. I can go to Stockholm on Monday without you know don't have any kids or wife. What have you and
15:05 And some of the workshops are we in?
15:09 Who made the suggestion that?
15:12 Maybe the path you're on is leaving know where you and I met at a workshop and intimacy and in the light of what you're saying. It seems kind of strange that you would even go to a workshop on intimacy sort of pulled into it by friends. Is it all you should come too and they were telling me in their elliptical way this New York you is something missing in your life and they were giving me the opportunity to
15:44 They didn't sit down and tell me that which I wish they had but they were pulling me towards something. That was very good for me.
15:54 And actually my life really starts turning around just about this point.
16:00 So is there a is there a lesson in that?
16:05 A lesson that you learned or a lesson that you would want to point other people, too.
16:11 Well, I suppose many people grow up in a tightly.
16:16 You know, they have relatives may have friends and they stay in their lives in the same house for a long time and they believe what you might call Norma life. I always thought I was privileged because I didn't I wasn't burdened with a lot of friends. So I wouldn't burdened with a lot any obligations and not only could I do what I want to do but these strange things would unfold.
16:44 I thought these things should only happen to me because I'm free and single and what have you and I can remember a day in Paris where we're rehearsing some sort of play and Samuel Beckett walks in the room. And because it's a Beckett play he
17:04 Show me the directory to the back row and sat down and said I'm going to take over this thing. So you do it, right?
17:13 That doesn't happen in our life in Berkeley today and also probably doesn't have to do if someone who's got four children and you know trying to put them to collagen and their time is is is all sort of surface drive by and by the domestic life, but
17:35 I was late in getting the message but I think the more I think about it. I'm not a religious person, but I still thank the Lord for better late than never you're coming into my life was.
17:51 Was a real Turning Point.
17:53 You life changed my life started that would you say that your life has been happy.
18:07 I'd like to avoid the word happy because if you get into a happy you can get involved with unhappy and I would rather use the word contempt. I'm very content when I look back on.
18:25 And on this holiday of my life and in the end every given moment, I thought I was really
18:35 Batting a thousand for many years. I thought I was a lucky person. I was not encumbered by children and schedules and what have you and
18:47 So I've been trying to make up for it since the time now live in I live in a real City Berkeley. I'm a real soon as you're not involved in civic affairs, and we have a we have a house and we have guests to come over regularly for dinner. What have you and so much?
19:15 It's not the life that I foresaw but it's life that I learned that this is what I wanted. What's surprising about this different life for you?
19:27 Well, what's surprising is course. I used to think people that were.
19:33 Domesticated where in somehow in trap life was no longer available to them because so many of them are very scheduled on a predictable lives.
19:49 I found in my case. This is what I've been missing all my life and and I'm just glad I found it. So I've had I've had most of the freedom and the domestics day and I've had the adventures and I've had the gun Adventures. I don't think I'll even adventuresome life now, but I keep myself busy, but you seem to me a person who's very content and it's something that I think helps me a lot. It's very good support for my learning to be content watching you and I do wonder what's the source of it?
20:36 Because it sounds like you were contented maybe not always butted many points in your life that wherever you were. So I think it's something about your attitude.
20:47 And do you know where that kind of you think you were born that way or raised that way or are you going with this trouble come from the lessons of life?
20:58 I've been to many countries that read many books that I've met many people and the workshops of the 1970s and 60s 70s movement really came at the right.
21:15 Really had a profound effect on me. And I think that had it had it come to in 10 or 15 years later.
21:25 I would have I would have missed the boat. And what do you think was the message that you got?
21:34 The message was that.
21:39 Being alone is missing.
21:43 Is missing there's something about sociability that's part of the human condition even today from so I have no children. We have no children and I don't have no desire for such a thing. But I wonder what am I missing millions and zillions of people this is the most important thing in their life and
22:10 I realize you can't have everything and I now looking back realize I have a lot less in the exciting part of my life. There was there was less there.
22:22 And then meets high but I didn't know it at the time. I would not have
22:29 Agreed with what I just said. I want to ask you about the S training in particular cuz I I don't know if that was the first thing that you did but I know it was important in terms of the workshop and I think that was less about intimacy then maybe about some of the other lessons that have helped you storytelling episode wearing right now and
22:51 Yes training was very big in the 1970s.
22:56 In-N-Out continues under a different name and it
23:03 It was for middle-class successful people who felt that they were kind of successful but
23:11 Couldn't get along with your mother or something, you know, something was missing in their lives. They couldn't smart as they were they couldn't put it all together and I thought it was a very effective training in which one of the one of the themes was the story of your life is not your life. It's just a story.
23:31 And don't confuse as I did the story of your life with who what's going on with you and female to be very creative is stay creative create a new story for yourself and you'll create a new more interesting life for yourself. Otherwise, you're sort of
23:55 You are a sort of trap and captured by the stuff. We all presented story. If we are to email to her to our cousins to our neighbors who's singing that I'm missing that and we leave out 99% of the details. We just have a cover story and that's okay as long as you keep changing it.
24:17 And so does it mean to look within and see what you really want for yourself or see whether the external still matches in the world without going through years of therapy. Is it looking to see who's there? Who's at home? Who's the who lets is talking and it's very easy to say. I'm a doctor and talk your life about being a doctor and what you doing this not and you can be having a miserable time. Maybe your children. Don't talk to you or your fourth wife is divorced you were what have you?
24:57 I think the same has been as it has been through the 20th century is to find out who you really are. And I we have therapy for you know, this whole movement has been you are more than what
25:15 You think you are or what you say you are.
25:19 And so for you you are more than what you have said you were are hopeful.
25:25 When is the things I say about you when I people might ask? What is Victor? Do I remember when I first asked you? What do you do? You remember what you said to me?
25:40 All right. I do not you said watch and you'll see but when I talk about you two people one of the things I've offered say is Victor is a gentleman scholar.
25:54 Well, I've been retired for many years now, and I love to read.
26:05 I'm just interested. We live in interesting times. We're learning lots of things. We never knew before in many directions and
26:18 I actually what I'm doing now is I'm a
26:23 Neighborhood mediator. We have a mediation service in Berkeley and there is one in almost every Community now out of
26:33 Community mediators and
26:38 And so this is a way of using the techniques of of
26:46 The dance steps of of
26:49 Of modern of modern thinking
26:56 To help other people solve their problems
26:59 And it's a very fit you feel about you. I feel very good. When I do it very simple minds by effective and it's very much needed and I serve a purpose in my community by doing this and this is an outgrowth of all these bits and pieces that have been learning especially in the last 25 years. Do you know how long you've been doing the mediation and how many cases you might have done?
27:36 And I helped put together if I move to Berkeley at that time, and there wasn't any mediation program. And so I have the names and addresses of us mediators and we got together and went down to City Hall and pretty soon. We had a city-funded program and it's been going on now for
27:57 3088 20 years and
28:02 I do about 15 or 20 a year.
28:06 After Twenty Years several hundred mediations
28:15 I feel this is the wave of the future that the media mediation is gone from did you mean meditation 20 years ago when we started now, it's the common place in the in the world.
28:31 So that's something that you can feel good about that. You've seen it grow. And and and what is it about doing it that you like helping other people and I've been solitary loner for 50 years. That was not a concern of mine. My concern was what do I do next and I want to say something but it's a way I can get back into the real world.
29:05 If people don't help other people their lives are there by diminished I would think.
29:12 So it's a way that you can really contribute to other people in and to the community has good feedback. Everybody loves the mediator.
29:24 I'm different than you imagined. It would be and perhaps not expecting to have a partner. Expecting to live in an intimate relationship but cramps are other things too.
29:37 Interesting question. I never had a picture what I was going to do. I noticed in college most of my
29:47 My fellow students were I'm going to be a doctor. Oh, I'm going to be a lawyer or I'm going to work for the government. I'm going to be an engineer and make new one.
30:00 I sometimes feel sorry for them because if they really succeeded.
30:06 They spent all their life doing something marvelous what they've got an arrow life. I feel like I've been all over the world and seen everything and
30:15 But I didn't know I was going to do I just knew what I was going to do. The next thing in the next thing was to get on a boat for parents and everything else just unfolded by circumstance by who I met.
30:33 I like to tell people that life is an adventure.
30:37 Alexander and I feel very sorry for people who've even though they're very happy and they they they have not had the adventure of wandering around the world.
30:54 So inventive Alex and I think I'm fortunate. I know I'm a contented person. But I've also had this all this other stuff which is happened to wouldn't you talk to young people about their future. Is there a particular line that you give them or a way of looking at it that you encourage? Make sure that just make sure that you know that life is an adventure and
31:25 Even when sort of bad things happen
31:30 Even when bad things happen, they will in all probability be followed by
31:36 Nathaniel or you go down into a valley, but then you'll come up on the other side and
31:47 I don't know every time I wondered what to do and there was a knock on the door or the phone rang or something and I just want everybody to realize it especially in the country that we live in multiple possibilities and what you think you're going to do is not necessarily what you're going to do, but that doesn't matter. That's the good news.
32:09 I would say that you have the reputation among people of seeing the light in the field of Darkness that when other people see Doom and Gloom you think there's this is really the good news.
32:24 I read a lot of history and what I notice is it when things get very good.
32:38 You know recently we've had to make an economic boom in America and a lot of people talk to her house when away up in value and they had good jobs and what have you and we've never had a economic boom in the United States ever in our history, which wasn't followed by a bust and as we speak now.
33:00 We're going through this economic bust but it gives us now the opportunity.
33:06 There's no reason to believe that you're going to come out. This is a time when we can regroup.
33:12 And up
33:14 Participate in the adventure of the coming out of the bust
33:22 But thanks is Adventure.
33:24 And if I don't know where optimism and pessimism come from
33:31 I feel sorry for people to a pessimist because I've read enough philosophy to know that an optimist creates.
33:42 More things to be optimistic about and we know that a pessimist actually creates their own.
33:50 Future misfortunes, we know that the brain has due to different places when you have an optimistic thought the circuits go to one part of your brain where you have a negative experience or thought neurons go to another part of the brain, and we know that I have to miss have a larger.
34:15 Good part of the brain and we know that pessimist have a larger wrong part of the brain and that just comes from constant that you can your thoughts actually can.
34:28 We now know soon Neuroscience. Your thoughts actually can change your brain wiring and so good thoughts bhagat good good thoughts. So
34:49 There's something about if you're an optimist you play airplane in the better Plainfield, but I don't know where optimism come from.
34:58 And I've had a good life. I mean, I've never been in jail and never been a drug addict.
35:10 I got can't answer a lesson. Well, that's a question. That's it had a profound answer and I don't know I'm reminded that often people say, you know, we're we're all saying the world is coming to an end politically economically socially whatever the current disaster is and you tend to be one of the people saying oh no, this is an opportunity during the bush to my friends were as myself very much against Bush in in his gang and they kept saying oh bush shouldn't do that though. He shouldn't do that only I can say no no, no, let him be is the worst he is the better chances. We're going to have of coming out the other end and getting rid of him and sure enough in 19 in 2008.
36:04 His whole program was rejected because it was so awful and had he been just halfway, okay.
36:12 We might not have a mister Obama is president.
36:19 You know what? I think the Chinese are right a misfortune is an opportunity.
36:28 I'd like to ask you about how you'd like to be remembered.
36:38 How would I like to be remembered?
36:41 I don't think much about that because I know that when I die, I don't care how I remembered a lot of people think. Oh, no, that's that's no good. I think mr. Hitler is very lucky. He's dead. You couldn't care less what history thinks have him. So I just hope that people don't see me as someone.
37:04 Who's created a lot of unhappiness in the world?
37:09 I don't think I've done that but I think the truth is.
37:16 The truth is
37:17 I don't care how I remembered after I'm then I don't care what happens to the world after I'm dead strange enough about how people think that you know, it is it you have any
37:35 I did visit come up for you. I don't really know. You don't know how people do think of her know how you would like them on course for 50 years. It was very smart of me not to be concerned if people probably didn't think very well of me, but I was too busy doing things to pay any attention, but I'm very upset about seeing friends of mine who are very worried about what their daughter thinks of them are what their neighbor thinks of them. And I just don't play that game at all.
38:10 Well, I do want to say some things about how I do think of you and I was thinking about how when we met I had been single for a while and I thought there weren't any interesting men and
38:29 I don't know how it was that when we met I was so taken with you and I thought this is an interesting man, and he may not be interested in me. He may not be interested in a relationship, which is the way it felt for a very long time to Victor Victor. But but you were interesting that's why I I
38:54 How you round her tried to get you to notice me was because there were so few people who are interesting and that's a very important part of our relationship and it's not about what you've done. It's about who you are. It's about that you're interesting to talk to your interesting to be with looks like the first 50 years of my life actually paid off where we're lucky. We met at just the just the right time.
39:25 And I think that's the message.
39:27 Just be just be ready for the door to knock or the phone to ring at any time.