Wednesday, September 19, 2007

About Robert Minichiello

Robert Minichiello (who is currently in hospital) in October 1972:

Throughout this entry, you will find aspects of the building Robert envisioned for the site now occupied by Davies Symphony Hall.

It is too bad that reality does not melt and give way to great dreams. If great visions held sway, instead of the winning entry for the renovation of San Francisco’s Union Square being an expanse of concrete where a human feels like an egg frying on a grill, we would have enjoyed Robert’s Union Square. Truth would have entered the Square as Robert’s plans amended the meaning of the Dewey monument at the center of the square. In May, 1898, the U.S. Navy under Admiral George Dewey attacked the Spanish Navy in Manila Bay in the Spanish colony of the Philippines, and the Filipino forces, convinced by General Emilio Aguinaldo that liberation was at hand, attacked by land, which resulted in Spanish surrender. After the demoralized Spanish forces were routed from all provinces, Emilio Aguinaldo, from the balcony of his house in Cavite, proclaimed the independence of the Philippines on 12 June 1898. Aguinaldo was elected first President of the Phillipines by the Filipino people, but the United States refused to recognize Filipino independence, and took over the country. Admiral Dewey received instructions to distance himself from Aguinaldo and his independence cause.

Robert’s attractive plans for the Square balanced the tall pillar of the conquering hero Dewey with four glass pylons inscribed in English and Tagalog with quotations of Filipino patriots during their struggle for independence from the Spanish AND the USAmericans.

Here is the quote from A. Bonifacio: “The nobility of a man does not consist in being a king, nor in the highness of the nose and the whiteness of the skin, or in being a priest representing God, nor in the exalted position on this earth, -- but pure and truly noble is he who, though born in the woods, is possessed of an upright character; who is true to his words; who has dignity and honor; who does not oppress and does not help those who oppress; who knows how to look after and love the land of his birth.”

Having first met Charles Perrier’s old teenage friend from Boston, Robert Minichiello, in the early 1960s, there has been enough history to make it impossible to “sum up” Robert. The first or second night I met Robert we were walking around in North Beach, and I don’t know what I sensed in him that made me say, “You’re thinking of suicide, aren’t you?” It was obvious from his shocked “How did you know that?!” that I had guess right.

He and Charles became apartment mates (I joined them sometime later), and one night Robert called me where I was staying and said that he had dropped acid and asked if I would come over. Later he told me that when he took the acid he was imagining that he was committing suicide and so that made it a very bad trip, things crawling out of the walls, etc. I had not tried acid yet and so I didn’t know what he was experiencing or I might not have thought that reading the ecstatic poetry of William Blake would help, but I guess just having someone there helped him get through the bad trip.

I don’t mean to make a theme of “suicide,” and when you know someone that long, the number or kind of stories is apt to spill out in one direction or another. There were the evenings of his big spaghetti dinners, selections from the choice collection of classical music records that he preserved, cleaning the disks so that I doubt if there are any scratches on them even after all these years.

There was the time when, after I endured a terrifying mugging, he took me to the local swimming pool often until movement through water helped undo my tightened, traumatized body (and then I could also play the role of a drowning man so he could practice the training he had learned for saving drowning people).

But, except for a time in the 1960s, Robert came and went, never quite attached, seldom in the Bay Area for a great length of time before moving on, and he was always unhappy about not finding a place for his visionary architecture while never able to be part of the kind of cohort that makes it possible to realize such private and personal dreams. Perhaps that is why he seemed half self-deprecating clown; half angry, stubborn intellectual. But a Summing Up, including that one, is not possible. The notion of a Summing Up is unnatural and comes too soon, and yet we are trapped into a premature Summing Up.

At some point, long ago, as he bounded back and forth among certain cities, I made a foolish effort to guess what was going on with him and tried to give advice in a verse:

For a Friend Departing for Seattle

Well, I must speak of your coyote loneliness
who could be such a happy farmyard dog;
who fears barbarians because he bears their curse.
This curse you well might lay aside.
It is the last of all those foolish lessons
Kith and Klan impart til Kith and Klan
do melt away in universal heart.
Then all coyotes be and, crippled so, be
whole again as only aliens stumble on
the earth as something new and so discover
human selves which never any animal pack
could bring their children to.
Lay off the chain that, link by link,
leads us ever toward the blind Wolf who howls
in the blind passageways of Hell.
Ah, let it mourn, and go your own way.
Some never see the light of universal Day.
Not that I do – I only know a certain way not
to go is awkwardly in sorrow for your birth.
Each thing bears in itself its universal Right.
Its birth has sealed the lips of death
and muzzles the vengeful Wolf if we but blink.

I am trying to tell you, I am trying to tell me:
practice makes perfect, but playing beats them all.
Love is yours now, and it comes
from the future like a great snowfall,
and then a smile, surprise, and nothing past.
Only your willingness for a future,
free-falling in your grace, can turn the key
in Seattle in the door where love sits,
smiling, in a chair. It’s just desserts
to be a human (and that means loved).
The Blessings of the AllWay Go With You.

– James McColley Eilers, copyright 2007

In one of the more mellow periods, in San Francisco, he was a welcome destination:

Hot Sunday, April 14, 1985, San Francisco
(This has a second column, like a marginalia, that won't print as such on this blog, and so I have capitalized words from the lefthand column, and put lines from the second column in parentheses.)

(A haiku (or senryu) writes itself)
(as I set out, walking)
(through the Mission District.)

(The industrial neighborhood I)
(pass through evokes memories of)
(childhood among the Indiana)
(country poor.)

(Song of the Clerical Worker – )
(energy-draining Monday-through- )
(Friday never far out of mind.)

(After arriving at)
(Robert Minichiello’s)
(flat, respite and friendship.)

– James McColley Eilers, copyright 2007

Robert in 2007, just before his hospitalization…


Junk Thief said...

A nice tribute and bookend of photos. Too bad about his demise and that you've been able to capture more than just his illness.

The Blue Elephant said...

I should add that his demise may be inevitable, but he still struggles with his illnesses, yet we know the end is near.

Marc said...


Thank you for this absolutely marvelous posting. As a young lad growing up in S.F. these two gentlemen were in my family's close circle of friends, and at one time Robert and Jim were boarders in our large Victorian home on 6th avenue (if I've got the story right). I even still have (somewhere, I think) an original Minichiello: oil pastel on newsprint of a windmill in Golden Gate park. I still remember those days as some of the happiest in my life, and have often wondered what became of him (and his work). Mainly I have ancient snapshots in old dusty albums. Later on in my family we would still discuss the spaghetti dinner that took three days to concoct--my mother Sherrill may still have a recipe card for it somewhere. From my limited perspective the development of the internet to permit these reconnections is fantastic.

The Blue Elephant said...

I have thanked Marc for his incredibly kind and sweet remarks. In the time Marc refers to, the 1960s, Robert and I, and our apartment-mate Charles Perrier were following our separate passions – painting/architecture, writing, and dance. In our 20s, possessed by our imaginations, we wouldn’t have known we were observed, as, in our childish state, we probably thought we were contemporaries of Marc, a smart and witty San Francisco child, and his smaller brother, Andrew. We loved those children and were inspired, and guided, as much as they, by the progressive spirit of their mother Sherrill. What wonderful adults those children have become.

Deborah Krog said...

Dear Jim,

What a wonderful tribute to Uncle Bob. I think you captured him and his spirit perfectly. It was interesting to learn of his history I didn't know, and I am certain there is more I may never know. I do know that Bob was kind and caring and thoughtful, but thank you for the reality as well. Whomever said he could be a pain in the ass, had it right, but all the other traits usually held us in awe, disbelief, wonder, amazement. I will miss him and his drawing/paintings of which I have several. I will miss his playfulness as he enjoyed playing with my boys and being a goof along with them. I will miss his caring about others, because even though he may have been a pain, he was our pain and we all loved him.

Nancy L. said...

Dearest Jim, I remember you so well. I was Nancy Anderson. I visited Bob and Charles in San Francisco in 1966, and you visited me in Boston. Word has reached me of Bob's death. Did you know his friend Jon Anderson died not a month after he did? Please get in touch. My deepest sympathy for your loss. As for myself, I'm numb.

The Blue Elephant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Blue Elephant said...

Revision of deleted comment. To Nancy Lagomarsino: Nancy, certainly I remember you -- just mentioned you in something I was writing about Robert -- specifically, how he was frightened by a dog and grabbed you and threw you between himself and the dog. I kept leaving messages for Jon at the University in Tucson. I would like to contact you, as you suggest, but don't know how. [Since this comment, we have made contact.] Last I knew you were in South America. Thanks again for putting me up that one night in Boston! So long ago!