Stanley Tennenbaum
American Original

Spring 1967 - Spring 1971

Following my departure, Carol, caught in the turbulence of the contrails trailing Stan’s meteoric upswing, grew fearful and agitated for the well being, indeed the feeding of, her children.

Stan’s theatrical exit from the Rochester tenured position together with what looked to be endlessly mounting frenetic activity towards what also looked to be hopelessly unrealistic dreams and visions, had sorely rocked her normally equable and tranquil equilibrium. At the least she wanted to work to establish some semblance of fiscal security, a position open to her at the U of Rochester computer center (where she became such a loved figure that it is now named after her), Stan wouldn’t hear of it. Seeking advice, she was encouraged to have Stan committed (in New York state, spouses could do this). Of course nothing was more frightening to Stan with the exception of the loss of his children, his next hurdle, when Carol, at odds with his intractability, pressed for divorce. Stan, consumed with possibility he might lose access to his children (the children for their part were staunchly loyal to him), hired one of the top divorce attorneys (whom he personally knew of course) using what I think was IBM money given to him for a research project. The attorney assured Stan that at some point Carol and her attorney would make a certain mistake, very specific, which indeed did happen, Stan’s greatest fears then unrealized, achieving either custody or joint custody. In any case when the smoke had cleared, reality intervened and Stan and Carol rather harmoniously and peaceably arranged living matters for the children and their own articulation thereof. For the most part Peter and Sue lived with Carol, Stan occasionally dropping in though he did have at least Peter for a summer out in California where he had followed Jonathan out to UCSD, as he put it to me, a case of the father following the son. (Stan was extraordinarily attached to Jonathan, could little bear to be without him for too long.)

Sometime after this Stan launched what would be his final attempt to establish a new world U of Chicago, this time though he had cracked the nut as to funding, leaving the institution completely independent of outside sources and therefore influence, a ‘city on a hill’ in its purest form. He would build a new university from the ground up, not an existing one to be transformed, it would generate its money through the development and sale of educational materials, all departments involved, pedagogy of the highest order.

To attract the funding to begin, the seed money to get things off the ground, buildings acquired or built, faculty on board, etc, Stan installed himself in the St Regis hotel in NYC using money borrowed from friends under the belief that to convince people with money you necessarily had to appear wealthy yourself. No fool he, a master of guile, persuasion, and manipulation, all justified by the purity of motives (and though I might expressly it lightly, I do second this, having only admiration for how lofty his dreams and the creative brilliance towards their realization). Stan then set about interesting some of Wall Street’s most successful financiers (among which, reputedly, the model for Gordon Gekko, the Michael Douglas character, in Oliver Stone’s film ‘Wall Street’). Part of the persuasion, Stan produced as an example of the educational products he had in mind a film of him ‘teaching’ two boys, sons of the financiers, very bright, something about mathematics through presenting them with a quite visual puzzle, expertly edging them towards a solution as they struggled with it. I’m not sure where the money came from for this, perhaps the loan, perhaps Xerox, probably not from the financiers, it not being good form to solicit money from those you’re trying to convince. Apparently Stan’s push nearly succeeded, the Gordon Gekko figure teed up as principal investor, but failed at the 11th hour. (The film Stan made, which I saw when Stan brought it through Rochester, is now lost, an inestimable tragedy in my view.)

Giving it rather short shrift so to speak, Stan rarely had any money to speak of, it of little concern, certainly not something of value in and of itself, certainly not to be sought or pursued, husbanded or cached, certainly not to be idolized or revered, not the tablets brought down from the mountain. It had no purchase on the jagged crags and rugged cliffs of edifice truth. It was a mere commodity (remember the car?) to be shuffled around as needed. It came (rarely) and went (often), usually just enough around to make the wheels of his life (family first) go. Often enough, when it was there, it was parceled out to others not at the moment as flush, particularly raggedy students, three breaths away from famished collapse. On the other hand, he kept a running tab on what he thought he was worth, competitively aggrieved that his chosen life did not guarantee this estimate to be indeed in place, no additional effort on his part. I think he was slightly mystified, slightly frustrated that for one so prolific of imaginative ideas, many of them of solid commercial potential (he spent an afternoon at the U of Chicago with a friend working out the details of fully automating the creaky archaic library) the existence of his vision producing spinning wheel did not automatically spin gold. Once at the Institute For Advanced Study, at my prompting, he said his current worth depended on how you looked at it, that he at the moment owed X (not a large sum) but with the imminent realization of certain plans, he was worth Y millions (a very large sum). He smiled when, with some irony, I demurred to accept a final valuation of (X+Y)/2.

So it was in the Spring of 1970, I, having left Rochester a year before, was now teaching at the Waccamaw Academy, a private school in southern North Carolina, a town called Whiteville (catch the name), recently set up by the community stalwarts Jesse and Gaye Fisher to provide some semblance of an education for the children of the region, some bussed daily from 30 miles away. A phone call in the afternoon, Stan’s voice immediately, no preliminaries or pleasantries, ‘Tully, what are you worth?’. Saving for a first European trip for the following year, I had a little cash on hand. Mulling this over, we jointly determined there was a total of $500.00 (actual money in those days) not in play, which sum was in short order in electronic transit to Stan, commodity, mere commodity. (Peter much later mentioned it was this that fed him and Sue for the summer.)

A year passed, Spring 1971. Sitting in my tin can trailer slowly barbecuing in the North Carolina sun, all doors open, I was dreamily plotting my course up the east coast to Boston where I would catch the cut-rate flight to Luxembourgh, starting point of the random walk about Europe planned for the next 3 months, when I began wondering where Stan was, potentially anywhere (no fixed abode then) but most probably in North America. That certainly narrowed it down. Bringing to bear all the AB lessons learned at Stan’s intellectual knee, second nature to me by then, I thought the best bet, better than trawling through every single city Yellow Pages in the nation, was to think of someone Stan was regularly in touch with, people who tended to have fixed abodes, and get hold of them, they perhaps having news of his whereabouts. First up was Kurt Godel who as permanent member of the Institute For Advanced Study was rather fixedly there. A call to the Institute, I was patched through to his home, he answered and very graciously advised (me a total stranger) that Stan was, lo and behold, there, staying with an English mathematician, one most unfortunately in a wheelchair, a Tony Baker (I think). Bingo ! (Stan a few days later found it very interesting that Godel spoke to me as at the time he was well-advanced in his mental aberrations and was not speaking to anyone .... at all.) Hitch-hiking up the coast, I called Stan from a turnpike phone box, let him know I would be dropping in later that evening.

The director of the Institute at the time was Carl Kaysen, following Oppenheimer, bent on bringing the social ‘sciences’ to the Institute, heretofore nearly exclusively mathematics and physics, in any case weighted to real sciences. Relying on the petty divisiveness of the less than emotionally mature and psychologically astute scientists, characteristic of this group in general, Kaysen was running an adroit divide and conquer campaign, Stan, vehemently opposed, running a one-man counter campaign, an underground (though blatant) guerilla action, collaring all who would listen.

The following day, in recounting my life since leaving Rochester, I ran through my experience at the Anderson School-on-the-Hudson two summers previous, a private school north of Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River set up two generations previous by Victor Anderson, a psychiatrist, to house and care for neurotic teenagers, psychologically damaged products of disadvantaged, if only mentally, circumstance. It had now degenerated into a holding facility for the children of rich parents looking for someplace to stash them, get them out of the way but avoiding the guilt of so doing with the rationale that they were in a nurturing environment of estimable quality ..... Ha! .... Though I was to be the math teacher the following fall, I was, immediately a subversive force undermining the restrictive, repressive, penal nature of the school, a marked man, hardly lasting my summer tenure as supervisor of the boy’s dorm. My story fit well with Stan’s burgeoning encyclopedia charting the degenerate state of American education. Stan taken with my description of the school’s administration (mostly descendants of the good Dr Anderson) as a once vibrant, healthily rooted and psychologically-principled tree now withered, always cooking on all cylinders, flexible, adaptable in nudging forwards his multiple agendas, we spent the goodly part of the day traipsing around the Institute visiting various members, inclusive of Deane Montgomery and Hassler Whitney (I think), Stan trotting me out for what was now my party piece by way of more indication to them the advanced state of rot endemic in the educational institutions. Afternoon tea at the Institute was not without color, Kaysen briefly flitting in, he carefully semi-circling Stan, any encounter with whom would certainly put him off his biscuits.

So passed another incomparably absorbing day with Stan, unceasing conversation running the gamut of mutual interests, numbers of amusing, telling vignettes many of which I’ve already relayed to you, many memorable encounters with the permanent and visiting members, the whole of the day cut glass etched into my memory, frictionless ease to put myself there as if still living those hours, intensely alive to Stan’s unquenchable, riveting, luminescent, potent, ardent being. The diversion to the Institute crimped my time to Boston, a short flight was in order. Stan drove me out to the airport in an old car, the hotshot Fairlane Ford 500 long gone ...... it was early evening when we pulled up to departures. I turned to look at him, searching for some words of good-bye, not finding them ..... he also turned, paused for a moment and then simply said, ‘We’ll see each other again’ ....... We never did.