http://conradcook.talkspot.com (under construction)

Well, these are the things people want to know when they want to know about a person:

My name is Conrad Cook.  I’m a hobo these past two years or so.  Before that, I did a brief stint teaching English in Cambodia.  I quite enjoyed the teaching, but the cultural mismatch was pretty tough.

I’m 37.  Born in 1974 in the old farmhouse I grew up in with a cop knocking on the door.  People hear that and ask if my parents were hippies.  They weren’t.  They were bikers.  When I was a boy, one day I complained to my mother that there were no good books.  My mother found such a statement objectionable, and argued the point with me.  When she passed it off to my father, tag-team, my father asked, “Like what kind of books?”

“Books with rocket ships and stuff,” I said. “Like in the movies.”

“Ah,” my father said with a kind of a grin. “I know what you’re looking for.” And he set me up with a book by a man named Robert Heinlein.

So I grew up reading cold war science fiction. Hard science fiction, and the related stuff: Heinlein, Asimov, Zelazney — all that. I read Zelazney’s Amber Chronicles in Jr. High, and wasn’t prepared for it. If you haven’t read those books, which start with Nine Princes In Amber, they’re written from the point of view of a fantasy swashbuckling hero named Corwin. What’s remarkable about this character is that he’s put together something along Hemingway lines.

Zelazney isn’t up to Hemingway’s formidable standard, but these books are quite good for a fantasy series.  Much better than this “Wheel of Time” or “Game of Thrones” crap that circulates these days.  It turned out that my father wanted to name me Corwin, originally, but my mother vetoed it.  “Conrad” was the name of another Zelazney character.

(By the time I got to college, the Chronicles of Amber had a second period of popularity among my generation.  This was when the internet was getting going, largely in text form.  Then a lot of college kids used “Corwin” as a handle, and this made me glad I’d gotten the more obscure name.)

I went to college on a full merit scholarship through the Honors Program. This was a Western Civ program that was being re-tooled from an older great books approach — reading the important writers of our heritage — Aristotle and such — to a newer, more hip, multi-cultural, interdisciplinary approach.

Frankly I think we got more out of the stodgy great books angle. It’s the closest to a classical education you easily can get, and the criticism that you study dead white men is a little unfair, as in practice you study civilization and its lessons as broadly as possible.

The interdisciplinary version was okay, but frankly I found it less powerful and radical. If you want truly to understand democracy and its problems, the Peloponnesian War has great lessons to teach, more than a politically-correct attempt at studying diversity. The reason is that the Peloponnesian War is not politically correct, and in the raw exposure of people’s motives and thinking you come better to understand the human animal.

I first majored in math and physics, largely because of the science fiction influence. And I had an idea that quantum physics would reveal the secrets of the universe to me. After taking a few physics classes, I concluded that the kinds of answers physics and math could provide weren’t those I was interested in.

I changed to an acting major, and then changed majors many times. I did not generally declare the change, but just took courses in this or that focus. The effect of this was that my four year scholarship ran out long before I had completed a course of study.

Then I was working full time selling cameras and going to school part-time, as I could manage.  When I turned 24, I was able to apply for student loans, returned to school full-time, and got my B.A. in philosophy of science, with a minor in math, Honors Program.

The camera job evolved into running a photo lab and eventually managing a small photo shop. I switched jobs a few times. I worked as a truck driver — local delivery around Boston, not long haul — and found I enjoyed this work. I spoke the language of the men I worked with in a way I did not at the retail jobs.

Even so, I found the pattern of my life unsatisfactory in a basic way. I worked a job I did not like — the work was fine, but the job sucked — in order to pay for an apartment I did not like and maintain a car I did not like. I started to get rid of things, and eventually downsized enough that I was living in my car.

I continued to whittle down my belongings until leaving for the Cambodia trip. By then I was staying at a friend’s converted garage. I sold my car just before leaving. Since my return in February of 2010 I’ve been more-or-less homeless, bouncing around the continental U.S.

There are some things I’ve left out — such as learning to do hypnotherapy and writing a book about Hamlet — but in outline, this accounts for the last 37 years or so.  I’m currently involved with the 99% movement, in Occupy Bangor. It’s a peaceful protest movement.

At this time, we’ve been going for two weeks, and frankly none of us has any idea how it’s going to develop. In the 60s, the flashpoint everyone rallied around was, “Stop the War.” It’s difficult to sum up our current social ills, which are economic and financial, and to propose a solution to them, in a three-word sentence. We’re working on it.


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