Though known for many years as Igor, I now wanted to be known only by the name of Gordon. Bozhena, in her infinite wisdom, utilizing 'logic', and with a penchant for the bizarre, had named me, her first child, "Igordon". To her way of thinking it was perfectly and infallibly logical; in Czechoslovakia I could be known as Igor, a common and respected name and as a member of US society I would be known as Gordon. She obviously had already planned for me, her first-born, to spend my life in that country of limitless opportunity, which was by birth also my second nationality.
I had decided to dispense with the name of Igordon for an immanently practical reason. It was definitely not a common name in California and only connection most adolescents had with that name was the hunchbacked Igor of literature. Hence a lot of ridicule from my classmates. Best to just forget it. For many years, my mother was sort of schizophrenic about her invention, my two-in-one first name. For endearment she called me Igor, for emphasis or admonition it was Gordon. Normally she just used the common Slovak term 'moi syn', my son; often 'moi krasivi syn', my handsome son; especially when she was requesting something like taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, washing the car, cleaning up my room or a thousand other necessary tasks.
I was also stuck with an unusual middle name. Lev. I had never met anyone else in the entire world named Lev. In fact I was positive that the only other person in the history of mankind named Lev was now dead. Mr. Tolstoy of course, and one of my mother's idols. Then too I had a confirmation name, Michael. Saint Michael, archangel and defender of the 'Faith'. That name would certainly prove to be a misnomer. Then to further complicate matters my family retained a custom in their part of Slovakia of using both family names. My anglicized maternal surname of “Christy”, which in English was fairly common and originally had something to do with early Christians, had nothing whatsoever to do with that name in Slovak. The problem arose with pronunciation and transliteration from one language to another. English has never been known for being consistent in the sound of its letters.
In Slovak the 'ch' was a 'c' with a small 'v' on top of it and was pronounced with the sound of 'ch' as in cheese. About the closest pronunciation of Črsty in English would have been "Churrsti", and something no one in the US could deal with. The original Slovak meaning had to do with a small pastry, much like a cookie. I never forgave my sister for having explained this to some of my high school friends and for the remainder of my high school days I was called 'Cookie'
Then of course there was Štéfanik, in Slovak, son of Stefan, or Stephen. That same Saint Stephen who was the very first Christian martyr. But even before Saint Stephen got around to becoming a religious casualty the name had been common in ancient Greece where it was known as Stephanos and came from the Greek word which meant circle. Many years later, Igordon Lev Mikal Črsty-Štéfanik would discover another word for circle, the Sanskrit word 'mandala', which not only meant 'circle', but also 'universe', the totality of all things. I would also have other names, lots of them. In fact I sort of collected them over the years, much as some people collect stamps, coins or seashells.
However, as the time passed I came to realize that my rather elaborate name had become somewhat of a pain in the ass. Every time I had to fill out an official school document it would ask for 'complete name'. In the first place there was never enough space to write it all down. And when I attempted to sort of cram it all in, people looked askance. Their usual comment was that it was an awful lot of names for one person. Well, changing Igordon to a simple Gordon was at least a start.
Not only had I changed my name, but I also went through a period in which I decided to change my national origins as well. I'd noticed that nearly all my classmates were distantly related. At least they were generally of the same Anglo-Saxon roots. "Oh, you're English, well, I'm half English too"; or Irish, or Scotch, Welsh or whatever. I never encountered anyone claiming that they were also 67 percent Slovak. In fact, when I stated that I was 'Slovak' I then had to launch into the same, now well rehearsed, monologue about the general area in Europe where the Slovaks camped out. Becoming too specific just confused the issue. Sometimes it was just easier to say that I was Czechoslovakian. No one could spell it, but at least they had a general, albeit usually fuzzy, idea who that particular group of people were located.
It was a day or so after a friend had given me some delicious, richly butter flavored Danish cookies that I decided to become Danish. I'd read some of the stores by the famous Danish author, Hans Christian Anderson. The name Christian was similar to my maternal last name anglicized to Christy. I'd also eaten Danish rolls for breakfast at the home of another classmate. I'd even partaken of Anderson's Famous Danish Split Pea Soup. At the time it seemed like sufficient data.
A few weeks later I was exhibiting at a Science Fair with representatives from the various high schools of the area. In talking to a student from a nearby school, he commented on the fact that I had a slight accent and then asked where I was from. It was my golden opportunity and I beamingly replied, "Oh Denmark, yes, I'm Danish." It was momentarily pleasant since he didn't immediately ask where that was located. Instead he launched into a language I didn't understand at all, but I surmised that it must be Danish. I blushed a bit and hesitantly replied that I no longer spoke Danish; adding, "We left there when I was quite young". Then, in English, he explained that he was also Danish and in fact he and his family had just visited there last summer. He went on to ask what part of the country we were from. I blurted out that it was a really small place, located in the mountains. High up in the mountains. His quizzical and somewhat odd expression seemed to abruptly end our conversation. That night I got out my mother's trusty encyclopedia and looked up Denmark, something I obviously should have done much earlier. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that the highest 'mountain' in that entire flat, flat country was a small hill less than 350 feet high. That was my last day of being Danish.
Then sometime later I became Irish. I was introduced to the new box-boy at the small market where I worked part time after school. When he heard my last name he commented that I must be Irish also, since his last name was Christy. I replied in the negative, but it had given me an idea. I discovered that a number of people from Britain and Ireland were named either Christy or Christie. Well, I decided, adopting my mother's penchant for elaboration, I could be part Irish and that would help relieve the burden of always having to be Slovak. And if you were Irish no one ever asked where you were from since most of the towns there had completely unpronounceable names. At last I had become an Anglo-Saxon and was finally, albeit somewhat tenuously, related to the rest of the kids in school.
After high school I spent a year at a small college located in the foothills of the Pomona valley, about 15 miles from where we lived in the San Gabriel valley. Mount San Antonio provided a marvelous introduction to university life. It was a modest, unpretentious and intimate campus. The classes were small, the professors friendly. Most preferred to be called by their first names. With the exception of the Doctors. I discovered that many doctors, be it of philosophy or medicine, were very impressed with their own importance, and titles. All 'doctors' seemed to be intent on saving the world, be it from disease or ignorance.
Dr. Landry, the French professor was a case in point. 'Doctor'. Landry, who it would appear didn't even have a first name, found it difficult to understand how anyone in the world could consider themselves educated and not speak French. It was evident from the first day of class that though millions had tried, few, if any, really spoke French. Parisian French. In fact Dr. Landry let it be known that very few Frenchmen spoke Parisian French. The rest of country, outside of Paris, understood, read and spoke a version of that language, but it really wasn't French. It appeared that ethnocentricity was a nice sociological term but barely began to explain the version of cultural egotism and self importance adopted by the Parisians. Despite his eccentricities, Dr. Landry was a favorite all nearly all students, specifically for his raucous laugher. "Ah, mon cheri, that wahs a verry nice sound, but eet iz not the corrrect souund and zounded, a beet, a beet sauvage!" Followed by raucous laughter from the dear Doctor as the young student turned a 'beet' red.
Eddy, who taught English Literature was at the opposite end of the spectrum and was offended if anyone called him Professor Berkell, Edward or even Ed. He was Eddy. Young, handsome, personable and passionate about the written word. Literature, according to Eddy, was the binding element of all human society and had raised man from the muck to his present position as the dominant creature on Earth. Without the written word man would be nothing; and as he pointed out, monkeys jabbered to each other, but were still swinging around in the trees. Eddy could become passionate about something written four hundred years ago or the scribblings of his students composed that very hour in class. He often pulled out certain phrases or combinations of words from his student's papers, which he felt had gone way beyond the 'mucky' stage and were worthy of recognition as having been produced by a human being. Not only were the students expected to digest what seemed to be the entirety of all English literature ever written, he wanted them to also produce the written word and frequently were given assignments in which they had to "write a page about a nine car freeway crash—in the style of Shakespeare or some other author. An assignment might be, "If Mr. Shakespeare were here today how would he describe the fog induced pandemonium that took place on the San Bernadino Freeway yesterday morning at 7:30 am?" I had fallen under the spell of this teacher's contagious enthusiasm. I too would someday teach English literature and assist humanity in the process. I could help to keep my fellow man from wallowing in the muck.
Miss Bowden, who taught various Math classes was equally zealous about her subject. From the very first session I was scared shitless of Miss Bowden. Evidently she began each Beginning Math class, a required subject for those, who like me had not scored well on the math placement exam, with the same information, as well as advice; in a loud, deep, rumbling voice. "Hi, I'm Bowden. During this semester we're going to be dealing with numbers and how you put'um together. And I wanna tell you that in the contemporary world, if you don't know Math, you're SCREWED." Long pause, and so quiet in the room that each student could hear his, or her, breath as it entered their lungs and, oh so silently, and slowly, was exhaled. This was the 1950's and that particular word was somewhat taboo since we all knew that what she really meant was 'FUCKED'. Her hair was shorter than that of any of the male students, and she was a hell of a lot meaner too. She never wore any makeup and about the only feminine thing about Bowden were her pierced ears, but since she rarely wore earrings that didn't really count. No one, but no one, messed around with Bowden.
Professor Percival Thaddeus Nimwitz lived in an exacting world of Botany, and its attendant Latin terminology. We never knew exactly how to address him since he had never evidenced any preference. Percival was obviously out, Percy was equally unacceptable, no one even considered his bizarre middle name and Nimwitz was too close to 'Dim Wits', and not very complimentary. Usually it was just plain Prof. Rather strange since, from the first day, the professor had explained that only way people could communicate in this world, and especially the scientific world of botany, was to call everything by its proper name. As we soon discovered a plant's proper name had nothing whatsoever to do with anything most of them had ever heard before. The large tree with the gnarled trunk in your front yard, that everyone in the English speaking world had always known as an oak, had magically changed into a Quercus. It might be a Quercus lobata or a Quercus robur or maybe a Quercus robur fastigiata, depending on various mysterious factors. At that beginning point in the semester it seemed that only the Prof. knew exactly what those qualifying factors were. Even Shakespeare had called it an oak, for God's sake. But a Quercus it had become. I somewhat smugly excelled in the class since my dear baba had many years before introduced me to Latin binomials, but more importantly, with a love of nature and our interdependence. Professor Nimwitz may have been a bit odd, but I loved the subject.
"Good morning, I am Professor Sacchetti, your history professor. This is a survey course in World History. We will begin at the beginning and eventually arrive at the present day. We will be dealing with dates, the specific and exact time that a particular event occurred." Nearly every student in the room gasped a deep sigh and was absolutely positive this was going to be the driest, dullest class they had every been subjected to. Quite the contrary, since Professor Sacchetti had that rare gift of making history a living part of every human being, the past constantly forming the present. He told countless stories and anecdotes, quoted historic personages and made endless connections. Dates were merely the binding element. He was an actor, an orator, a computer in those days before computers really existed. He expected quality in the work of his students, and most produced and lived up to his expectations. Professor Sacchetti's classes were some of the most popular on the campus. I knew, and was proud to be aware of the fact, that my father and Professor Sacchetti had come from the same mold.
It was a wonderful year with marvelous teachers and most important I had enjoyed the endless hours of reading and learning; new ideas, concepts, ways of dealing with the world and knowing that I, for one, wasn't going to go through life "being screwed'. So for me, the first item on every night's studying agenda was math. Endless nights of last minute review to be assured that I hadn't overlooked even the slightest detail that might be included on an exam. In order to pay for tuition, books, travel expenses and all the other expenses, I had been working part time at a large supermarket. But with the amount of homework required for each course it was increasingly difficult to maintain what I considered an acceptable grade point average.
The Korean war was still in progress and it was not exactly the best time to enter the military service. But that was exactly what I decided to do; enlist in the Army. But I had a plan. Bozhena had always insisted that even before getting out of bed in the morning everyone should have a plan. Some might have considered my decision unwise, but after a review of my high school and college records the Army recruiting officer promised to send me to a Secret Intelligence School and since my tests had shown an aptitude for languages I would also spend a year studying a foreign language at the well known U.S. Defense Language School. Then they would provide me with a challenging and 'enjoyable job' for the next three years.
Equally important, the US government would then pay for the rest of my university education once I was discharged from the military service. The government money would be sufficient to guarantee time for study, which I considered paramount. That was the plan. I was also astute enough to not sign a single document until I had seen all of their lavish promises in writing. Bozhena also insisted on reading every single word several times before she gave her consent, and somewhat reluctant blessing, to my decision.
After induction processing in Los Angeles, I began my Basic Training. It was an eight week process that everyone had to go through; of learning to be a soldier, playing with rifles, listening to boring lectures and generally being humiliated as a human being. It really seemed like a gigantic waste of time. If, as the government had promised in writing, I would be working at a nice desk and dealing with documents and intelligence material, what was the use of wasting countless hours on boring material that I would never use. As I gradually learned, logical thinking and adequate planning has never been a large priority of the US government, and the military in particular. They talked a lot about future planning and being logical, but never actually got around to implementing either. As long as the money was flowing in from the taxpayer in limitless quantities, why bother?
I had anticipated the worst during basic training, and wasn't disappointed. This, the first part of my training, also became one of the most important experiences of my life. I saw how much of mankind, when granted a certain amount of power, seemed to thirst after more and could actually be sadistic in implementing this power over others. It seemed to attract those who wanted to have control, control over people and situations. I understood the necessity for instruction and discipline, but when combined with what appeared to be sadistic, inhumane treatment it no longer seemed to serve its original purpose. As I later came to realize, it included not only many in the military, but also and most notably the police, politicians and even, unfortunately, the clergy.
After finishing Basic Training, my next assignment was to be at the Army Security Agency (ASA) training School at Fort Devins, Massachusetts. It would be a six month training for "analysis of security information", then I would go on the US language school. At last I knew something specific about what I would be doing during my time in the military. I would be working at one of the many secret government facilities which intercepted radio transmissions, as well as other sources of information, from one of the 'unfriendly' nations—Russian, Chinese, North Korean or countless others.
As I later discovered, evidently everyone, in eyes of the US government, was suspect and spying was done on even their closest allies. My job would be to analyze and determine the immediate importance of the information prior to its being sent to the National Security Agency in Washington, where it was analyzed in even greater depth. This was at the height of the 'Cold War' and the communist menace was seen as a real threat to democracy and the stability of the world. I would be given a Top Secret security clearance and spend months learning about visible as well as hidden information within all communications. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a birthday telegram might hold useful information.
Upon arriving at Fort Devins in Massachusetts, and being assigned to my room, I met the person who was to be my roommate for the time there, Gregory Teodor Bartoni. A native of nearby Boston and of Greek/Italian descent. Throughout the entirety of my life I would never forget the impact of that individual on my life.