Inspection- Ode to Harry

For many years I have seen quotes like “a Liberal is Conservative who hasn’t been a victim of a crime yet,” or “a Conservative is a Liberal who hasn’t had his rights violated yet.” None of these captures a decent image of the true person. All are simplistic. I have no idea if Harry Nolan considers himself a Conservative, though I’m relatively sure he would agree he has Conservative tendencies. While this edition of Inspection is quite personal, it also examines how we become what we become beyond the standard simplistic nonsense we feed off of far too much, like such partisan catch phrases.

Also, this edition of Inspection will be read by new many readers.

Welcome.

A lot has passed since the last time I heard much about Harry Nolan. Nixon won and then had to quit, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George Bush, Clinton even George the Junior was on his way out. Watts riots, assassinations, Vietnam ended, 1976, the first and second attacks on the World Trade Center, Katrina all slid by; sometimes leaving smears of both blood and tears. How appropriate and inappropriate at the same time. Here was the last thing I heard about Harry…

I was 12.

The adults were all in a tizzy, yet I really only remember bits and pieces. At 1 am a screen was forced from a window; palm and fingerprints were left, and Patricia Nolan Gates was stabbed to death. Her husband, Richard Gates: legal name Arthur Richard Gates, was stopped in downtown Spring Valley, NY; by a policeman and taken into custody, fingerprinted, tried and convicted. On appeal, many years later, it was claimed by his lawyers that the police didn’t disclose the full purpose behind asking Mr. Gates for his prints, but that claim was made many, many years later… so it was dismissed; though at least one judge had some questions about supporting that decision according to transcripts I’ve recently read. As it will soon be clear, at the time, Arthur Richard Gates was someone we might not have wanted walking amongst us.

Kind of gives you a different perspective on Miranda Rights and such, I suppose.

That’s the very, very short version. I cannot do it justice. For all intents and purposes I wasn’t there. I was a sixth grader more concerned with bullies and the Adirondacks; where I wanted to move. All I knew was the Nolans were our neighbors and I have fond memories of working for Mrs. Nolan at her store. Both the Gates and the Nolans went to the same church we did.

Court records show…

“Patricia Gates was the estranged wife of the petitioner Arthur Richard Gates, having received a decree of separation from him in June of that year which awarded her custody of their four children. As they left the courthouse petitioner told his wife in the presence of her attorney, “You will never live to enjoy the children. I will see to it myself.'”

According to Harry, not known at the time of the marriage was the fact that Arthur Richard Gates was given a dishonorable discharge previous to the marriage when he was in the Air Force because when he was in England he broke into two seperate homes; attacking a female in each home: almost killing them. He spent a year in the brig in England before returning to the States. Harry mentioned that our minister, Rev. Sanborn, never told the Nolan family about this prior to the marriage. The victims of those crimes were given tickets by Scotland Yard to come to America and testify in the case if he testified in his own defense. He refused to do so.

As I typed: “someone we might not have wanted walking amongst us.”

Oh, and a personal note… a year later I bought Richard Gates’ Lambretta motorscooter. It never worked right. I swear the damn thing was cursed. Given what happened… maybe it was.

What I could not see, what I didn’t know; what I missed, was how much of a life changing event this was for Harry Nolan; one of my brother Ted’s best friends and fellow band member who performed at that Baptist Church.

Curse you Harry Nolan!

Curse you Ted Carman!

And I thought Dell Setzer and I as The Liberty Street Singers could claim the mantle of “been there, done that, first.”

How little we understand what goes on inside those around us. Young Harry, after losing his sister to murder, found a passion for justice that seems to haunt him today. He became a policeman; then he worked the prisons. To this day Harry seeks justice for those who need to know who killed their loved ones. Retired, he still uses the net to help others hurt like he had been.

I respect him immensely… but we don’t always agree. But if you find two human beings who you think always agree… then what you’ve found is probably an assumption that would be a lie; if you insist on it, or you’re delusional.

A few weeks ago I blew into St. Augustine like the one man, hurricane, of a show for children that I am. I had a show in Orlando the next morning. Harry and I agreed that I would stay a couple days with he and his wife: Anja. I didn’t quite know what to expect. The last time I actually remember seeing Harry, Eisenhower was still President. I was four and jumping up and down on the Nolan’s ice fort so that my brothers could defeat him and his fellow infidels in a vicious, almost bloodletting, game of snowball. They held me hostage for this act of crossing enemy lines, but they almost had to pay to give me back.

Was I to be held hostage again? I knew long distance calls to my brothers would be useless. Would I sniffle, cry; left with only the hope that my mother would tell my brothers; “Stop that,” once again?

Hey, a four year old tends to be pretty sensitive about such things.

Harry told me I was always “the quiet one.”

Me?

Well, when you have two brothers and one is so significantly older than you than you, you both wonder if your brother was raised by; or least least born of, different parents. In reality: you were raised by different parents. Time does that. Oh, and if you have another brother who has such a great relationship with his older brother that he’ll do whatever to keep that special relationship “special…” you tend to keep quiet. You get yelled at a lot. Insulted. Almost sold into slavery by your fellow ice fort pirates.

Yes, sibling relations can feed upon each other, often not in the best ways. Occasionally it’s like really ugly vampires who each think they’re the only nosferatu in the room. Then it really bites.

It was an interesting two nights. Harry has a pristine palace south of a picturesque city that boasts being the oldest settlement. We met at an English restaurant I love on the north side of the city called, King’s Head, for two glasses of wine and one perfectly poured pint of Guinness. Ah, I love King’s Head. I will miss it: especially their Steak and Kidney Pie.

Then we drove to Harry’s place.

We found we both love to talk and tell stories. And many of the stories told convinced me even more of my own adage, “A child never really knows his parents.”

I hated working for my Dad. Nothing I ever did was right. This humorous, affable, jokester turned into a growling, cursing ogre who refused to admit the 2X4s he sent me to stain were so green no one could stain them these stain sucking timbers, for example. Even when his good friend and distant relative Hughie Hughes tried to tell him. You can’t win when faced with that kind of boss. I had promised when I graduated college I would come back to our Twitchell Lake home and work his home repair business with him: Sawdust Enterprises. When the time came I did everything… but.

The reason I’m supplying the above “filler” is that Harry worked for Dad too: for free. Amongst many things, he helped excavate under our house that over looked the Hudson and build a half cellar. He also kept our dog Lucky when we were away. “Kept” is the wrong word. “Quick open the door; drop the food and run,” a better description. Lucky was quite vicious and anything but “Lucky.”

Harry remembers working for Dad like this, “He was always tough on me, but come Christmas he always remembered some gift I had really wanted.”

Maybe it wasn’t just me?

“For free?”

You’re a better man than me, Mr. Nolan.

My brother Ted was considered “the Liberal” in the family by my father. When we called and spoke with Harry’s childhood friend; Ted: my brother, I could only hear one side of the conversation; though I could tell the content concerning one topic because a little rhetorical dance was going on between the two. I’m a former member of the Conservative Party of Rockland County, and former activist/campaign worker, myself… so I understood his beliefs. And I’m sure so many years as a policeman, a prison guard and a sister lost to murder contributed.

“Boy, Ted’s become quite the Liberal.”

Of course, in his opinion, I suspect he would believe so have I, though I consider myself only closer to “Liberal” when my other choice is only “Neo Con.” Hell, I’m not even sure what to call myself, except maybe “free thinker.” But I tend not to challenge my guest’s views on things when I’m on their turf. It’s not what I do. My live debating skills may have been pretty good long when we had discussions about Nam in school during the 60s; I was pro the war at the time, but these days I prefer writing and rewriting my columns and visiting net discussion sites so I might ponder the questions more than one would during a live debate. I have found fast answers; quick responses, are usually shallow and often wrong. So when he claimed, “Clinton did nothing about 9/11,” I zipped my lips.

Not exactly right…

Remember the supposed aspirin factory that Clinton had destroyed late in his administration? Never guess who he was trying to do a hit on? Or catching and convicting the first twin tower bomber early in his administration? These are only two of many examples. Could he have done more? Certainly. Of course if he hadn’t had to worry about a special prosecutor that started with Whitewater: failed to prove anything… went to Vince Foster: failed to prove anything; even admitting it was suicide… and then stuck his prosecutor’s shotgun down every available and unavailable hole until he found one where he could do some damage, blowing his wad, maybe a President could have had even more impact. Maybe 9/11 might not have even happened.

I would never claim Clinton perfect; by any means. There’s a lot I wish he had done, and a lot I wish he hadn’t. But in retrospect he was better for America than the next guy. But…

Harry’s not fond of George Bush, either.

The conversation was pleasant no matter what the content and they fed me too damn well. Thanks! We spoke of my mother; who I never really knew except as quite sick… and my father sneaking across the street to visit the Nolan bar because my mother felt alcohol was evil. Well, that was my impression, except she apparently visited too, according to my oldest brother Ted, and had a bit too much wine.

Mom?

Wine?

Mom drinking too much wine???

We reviewed the facts behind my father’s death and the fact that the floor heater that killed Dad; Bill Carman, had been in one of the Nolan houses. It really wasn’t your fault Harry, any more than it was mine when I didn’t stay with him that Winter as I had promised I’d do if it got real bad and… he called me. That last suggestion was something I should never had made: I knew he probably wouldn’t.

You never really know your parents and you never really know the people who live right next to you; what they’re really going through. And you never know when a comment made with no ill intent, or helping someone out, may backfire. We can’t punish ourselves for such things. No, we can’t. We really can’t.

I know, Harry: what we believe is rational isn’t what we always do. My father kept telling me to live “rationally.” Then he went out into the middle of the woods, refused to even talk about how bad his diabetes was getting and other dangerous medical conditions we didn’t even know he had, and he lectured about “living logically” and “rationally?”

How can we know our neighbors, our parents or even who we marry, when sometimes we hardly know ourselves?

I left early Tuesday morning for a gig near Live Oak, Florida. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. My St. Augustine client has been so hard hit by the economy they may never book again; or even be in business by next year. The Orlando client had a change of directors and management.

But hopefully our paths cross again. And maybe I’ll bring a bottle of barleywine so you can understand my passion as well as I can appreciate yours for wine.

Greases up willing tongues and conversation, doesn’t it?

Ah, the pleasures of such lubricants cannot be overrated!

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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