Crises 2: The Employee from Hell

by Richard Grossinger on March 14, 2010

Chapter Eighteen
Crises 2: The Employee from Hell and the Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

Sam was, as these fairy tales tend to begin, the perfect hire for us.  In 2001 the powers that be at PGW convinced Lindy and me that we needed to recruit a Director of Sales and Marketing, a liaison from us to their own sales-and-marketing people.  They felt that we were missing out on major in-trade promotional opportunities and that such a person would more than pay for him- or herself.  They had been wrong before on matters of promotion improving sales but, as the press was doing very well and growing rapidly then, Lindy and I were inclined to reconsider for once and take what seemed a reasonable gamble.

As noted throughout this history and particularly Chapter Sixteen, I have always adopted the point of view that, with our kind of publishing, promotion and publicity are dubious uses of money; a full-time pricey sales-and-marketing position certainly fell under that rubric.  But, on the other hand, unlike a fancy publicist, at least an in-house sales and marketing employee involved a direct attempt, in concert, with PGW to generate account “buys”: real advance sales, retail and wholesale.  It didn’t involve someone’s vague attempt to entice hypothetical readers or create diffuse, indefinable buzz.

From the moment the notion was floated, we had our eye on a primo candidate, “Joe,” a former PGW employee of whom we thought so highly that we had often modeled him in private discussion as the kind of marketing employee we wanted to hire.  Mark Ouimet’s one-time assistant, Joe was our only consideration.  However, wanting to explore all options as was her wont, Lindy ran an ad anyway—and there destiny interceded.

Even as we proceeded with interviewing our targeted ideal candidate, Lindy culled two viable resumés from the deluge trolled by her ad: one from a woman had dropped out of mainstream publishing several years ago and now wanted back in and the other from a guy who had also worked in the business but more in independent publishing and had an impressive international and upper-echelon educational background—I will be unspecific where possible in this chapter for purposes of anonymity.

The woman turned out to have been so long out of the game that she was not up-to-date on the present lay of the land, hence her old experience was useless, and she was a bit hyper for our office culture to boot.  The guy, however, was intriguing.  After Lindy interviewed him once, she was stoked enough to suggest that she meet with him again, this time with me.  After the joint interview I agreed: he was quick, smart, funny, charismatic, original in his ideas, well-informed in a post-hiphop way.  We were both very impressed.  He made Joe seem staid and retro.

Sam, as I’ve chosen to call him, not had a hip liberal background but a legacy of social-justice activism.  Astute at the contemporary jargon of publishing from recent past jobs (including work for some major independent publishers), he was also a fine graphic artist and published political cartoonist.

Sam knew North Atlantic/Frog mainly from our Phoebe Gloeckner titles, since they came closest to his own artistic and political interests.  At the interview he proposed in a low-key way that we were running two incredible presses, poised to make a quantum leap into the world of his generation.  “You guys don’t even know what you’ve got here,” he said with almost paternal deference, though he was our son’s age.

Sam didn’t seem to be flattering us as a manipulative strategy, either; he was self-aware, wry, and continually playful and sophisticated, even about the sheer awkwardness of the interview process.  He came to the third meeting with a list of pretty brilliant ideas about how to transform our publishing beyond the threshold of PGW.  He spoke of Internet marketing and special sales outside the book trade, trends that he foresaw would become more crucial.  He seemed to have the future of the publishing industry in his cross-hairs, and he sold us on his brilliance and sincerity.  He pretty much blew our other candidate out of the water.

We ran the notion of his potential hire past executives at PGW and, despite the fact that Sam was competing with one of their own, they encouraged us to hire him.  They had worked with him previously through another press that was larger and more commercial than us, and they felt that that North Atlantic could very much use a viewpoint from beyond the PGW matrix.  “One of them said, “With Joe, you know what you’re getting, and it’s all vanilla.  He’ll do a great job, and he won’t make any waves, but you won’t find any happy surprises in your stocking or breakthroughs either.  With Sam you’ll be taking a bold risk and doing new things, and you’ll be giving us a high-level partner for discussions.”

The verdict was pretty much unanimous against our selecting their former employee.  Thus, with more than a little embarrassment as well as heart-felt regret, we informed our prior “dream candidate” that we had decided to go in a different direction.

We offered Sam the job right after 9/11 and at once encountered an unexpected hurdle.  At the time it seemed minor, but it was an omen and the crucible of all that would go wrong thereafter.

We had advertised the position at $50,000, and Sam had raised not a whimper of objection to that number during the interviewing process.  But right after we told him that he was our guy and shook hands on it and were headed down Fourth Street to celebrate by buying him lunch at O Chame, he told Lindy and me that he had made $120,000 at his previous job and did not want to go that far down in salary.  Taken aback to a degree approaching shock and also suddenly suspicious, we stopped right there on the avenue and wondered aloud why he hadn’t brought this matter up before.  “I never discuss salary,” he said confidently, “until I am offered a position.  I always assume it’s negotiable.”

Halfway down Fourth Street to the shopping district and only five minutes into his hire, Sam had us in a difficult bind.  We had committed to him in our hearts and minds, and we also did not want to appear unhip or fuddy-duddy, but $120,000 was out of the question.

I tend to pride myself on not getting flustered or flapped in negotiations, so, while Lindy got visibly agitated and began to argue back with some forcefulness, I cut in and casually asked Sam, as if there were not a care in the world, how he intended to resolve the matter.  Would that Lindy’s reading of the emotional truth of the situation prevailed at that failsafe point!

Sam responded with that seemed then like a positive and cooperative gesture but in retrospect seemed fully rehearsed (along with everything else about him)—that we needn’t change his base salary but could instead give him an incentive, like a 10% commission on any increased sales, “probably measured against an average of the five previous years was my idea,” he added.

On the surface it seemed innocent and unthreatening enough.  The most that our cumulative sales had ever gone up in a year was in the range of $150,000, so we were apparently committing to an additional $15,000 which, as our lawyer Steve Rood remarked in signing off on the deal, we’d be happy to fork over if we took in another $150,000 through Sam’s ardent marketing.

Our new employee had given me the basic language for his compensation, but then I, being anxious to demonstrate my faith in him, overshot his intention.  In an instance of transference of identity or hyperbolic empathy (you might even call it ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’),  I wrote our agreement with the kind of airtight language that Sam himself might have hammered out with an attorney (but didn’t) in order to insure that the deal was airtight.  I unnecessarily reworded the underlying premise multiple times in the document, including a statement of what it was not, taking out all vagueness and leaving us no wriggle room.  I was trying to impress Sam, and I did.  “That’s really great,” he declared after looking at.  “You two are decent people, and I look forward to working with you and proving myself worthy of your trust.”

‘See,’ I told myself reassuringly upon hearing his reaction, ‘he is a really good guy, so this wasn’t a bad idea at all.’  That doesn’t mean that I was a hundred-percent comfortable.  I was rationalizing right from the beginning, as a part of me felt bullied and dragged along.

When I think back, I realize how naive I was and, at the same time, how seamless was Sam’s performance.  Given my life trajectory to that point, I was set up to make this mistake, in fact in spades.  And, despite Lindy’s continuous warnings from the outset, I blundered right into it, a blustering fool.

My document did a great job of sounding legalalistic and official.  When scrutinized later, the language of our “commission deal” was precisely like something that Sam himself would have provided.  I created a weapon with which to destroy us without explicit awareness of what I was doing, and I imprisoned myself in a hyperbolic trope to show Sam how much I believed in him, his capacity and integrity; in short, how cool I was.

I may have known that there were people like Sam in the world, but I didn’t consult such knowledge internally or take it seriously with the sort of deadly seriousness required.  It was not experiential or operational in me.  Instead I was caught up in my own mythology—to that point in my life my intuitions around the publishing had been astonishingly good, so I was maybe a bit reckless.  I was secretly over-proud of myself too and, I guess, a bit arrogant and self-enamored.

When I read the document later, I was startled by the perverse incisiveness of my own performance—its formal golden-tongued rhetoric declaring Sam’s due as if written by Scott Boras in league with the traffic laws of San Francisco.  As I reenact the moment in my mind and try to understand my mindset then, I find an additional component to feigned hipness: I think that I was trying to appear so vulnerable and innocent that no one, least of all Sam, would think to harm or take advantage of us.  Also, and this was key, I was making it psychologically possible in myself to give Sam this extra money by showing so much faux enthusiasm for it that I was exaggerating and transmuting my actual lack of enthusiasm and misgivings into celebratory affect: classic counterphobia and, as I said above, pure Stockholm Syndrome.  I was really quite concerned, and rightly so.  So what did I do?  I disarmed myself and left us naked in order to rid myself of my anxiety.   Great job, RG!

This side deal was also made without any attention to the mechanics and logistics of commissions or their ramifications.  Just for a start, for instance, if I had asked one person at PGW, just one, I would have found that ten percent was a ridiculously high commission.  I would have been told that something in the general range of 1%-2% was the norm for such sorts of sales overrides.  Every quarter of a percentage point was fiercely waged on the PGW home-front, and in the business world at large.  I gave up forty of those suckers without a blink.

Yes, I had learned to be a businessman, sort of, but I didn’t really take it seriously. Even then, even as late as 2001, it was still, to a large degree, an act for me.  I was playing at business and the role of CEO, that’s the nut and the nutshell.

Secondly, in the operant language of the agreement I overlooked a critical distinction: I left not even a hint of a discrimination between sales that resulted from Sam’s actual work and North Atlantic/Frog sales in general.  Since we had never had a huge sales increase, I did not consider such discrimination—the need for a link of some sort between Sam’s actual activity and any sales increase; it did not occur to me.  Yet that should have been a crucial balancing factor for the deal to be fair both ways, and it absolutely needed to be in there.  Everyone and his brother and sister and uncle told me that later.  People at PGW asked in wonder, “What were you thinking?  And he didn’t hold a gun to your head?”  A labor lawyer whom we later interviewed with Steve Rood but didn’t hire retorted, “So this is where you decided to chop off your own hand, right?  Now tell me why.”

I also left it at gross rather than making it net, another lethal blunder.  I forgot that ten percent gross was often our total net margin.

The only reasonable answer is that I wasn’t thinking; it was a neurotic performance, the shadow aspects of my childhood belief system about doing business imposing their unconscious influence, like Satanic imps, claiming their due.  Plus I now have a sliver of a recall that Sam distantly reminded me of Carson, a close friend in seventh grade who had to leave our private school because his parents couldn’t afford it and who switched to Bronx High School of Science.  I never saw him again and always missed him and felt guilty because he deserved Horace Mann more than I did.  It was as though I finally got to welcome Carson back into my life and reconcile with him, and I was not going to niggle this time.  I was going to do it in style.

Sorry, but that’s the best I can do with digging back through my own mind and heart at the time and trying to explain an act that is really still incomprehensible.  But then wait till you see what I did in the next chapter.  By then I was on a roll, unfortunately in the wrong direction.

My core conceptual mistake was amplified exponentially at ten percent.  For instance, Sam might do nothing but cartwheels and jumping jacks and, if our sales went up, he got a whopping portion of the increase for just being present.  Perhaps I assumed lazily that if sales went up, it would have to be because the new sales-and-marketing guy was out there busting his butt and pulling rabbits out of chainstore hats.  More likely I was careless and sloppy because I didn’t believe that any of this counted or really mattered.  It was just make-believe CEOing.

Steve Rood actually told me to cap it at $20,000 and Sam seemed as though he wouldn’t fight that, but, guess what?  I never bothered to write that in.

Thirdly, I did not consider at all, nor did Steve, the secondary legal implications of a deal like this with an employee.  In a single stroke of dumb logic I had killed pretty much all of our built-in basic legal protections against an unscrupulous employee.  I had made Sam a partner by our deal.  I will say more about that later.

Fourthly, and parenthetically, we did not check Sam’s references with any resolve, settling instead for calling, essentially, a short list of his best friends, all of whom told us what a great and industrious guy he was.  One of them flattered and complimented me for my wise choice.  I fell for that one totally.

If we had done even minor due diligence, we would have learned the very relevant fact that Sam had left his previous publishing job under combative and unfriendly circumstances, essentially terminated.  He went out the proverbial door in outrage, threatening a lawsuit over a very similar commission deal. He felt responsible back then for his company’s explosion in sales on a major title.   He wanted to be paid a portion of the product’s revenues per an informal oral agreement, but the publisher remembered it differently.  Sam hardly had to raise a finger this time.  I made sure that that didn’t happen again.

So Sam was, in part, looking to recoup what he felt had been taken from him unjustly by his prior employer, using us as the stand-in.  From his prior one-down checkmate, he knew exactly what he had to have in order not to be burned twice and cheated out of his rightful commissions—get it in writing—and I more than obliged.   But neither he nor I could have suspected how much destiny was to take his side.

Two years later, when we were in legal proceedings with Sam over his wrongful-termination lawsuit, the highly experienced labor lawyer whom we did eventually hire to defend us, a top-level attorney who had worked for Office Depot and Sun Microsystems among other national firms, told Lindy and me that Sam’s professional behavior constituted “the most egregious case of employee abuse I have ever encountered in twenty-five years of practice.  He wins the medal in this office.”  Even more significantly, he felt that so many things had worked out perfectly in Sam’s behalf that we must have been set up from the beginning by a very smart con artist playing dumb and acting cool and mellow as if he didn’t care and nothing were at stake.  At one point our lawyer said, “There are, by my count, twenty-one things you did wrong, and if you had done any twenty of them, I could get you out of this.  This whole deal worked out a little too good for Sam to be what it seems.”

Yet even today, that’s not my instinctive impression of it, though I continue to entertain the interpretation now and then.  I still tend to think that Sam was honest, if a bit narcissistic, if a bit spiteful over his former employer’s ostensible betrayal and carrying his revenge fantasy over to us.

But I don’t really believe he set us up or could have foreseen what would happen.  I think he was as surprised as we were.  I mean, we know who wrote the commissions document and sealed it in words.  It wasn’t Sam.  Unless he had telepathic and telekinetic power too, you can’t blame him for that part of the set-up.  Twas moi, acting alone.

Initially Sam was a model employee, a boon to North Atlantic and Frog.  He showed discipline, perseverance, and humility.  It took him over an hour of walking and travel on the BART to get to work each day but he was always on time.  He kept a bike in his office and pedaled to his occasional Berkeley appointments.  When we had to pack up boxes and pallets of books to move our stock from Ninth Street to the Haws Building in late 2002, he pitched in for several days with tape and a hand-truck, keeping the master list of the quantities.  He wasn’t at all insulted by warehouse work.  After being knocked off his bike by the opening door of a parked car, an accident that broke his collarbone, he still didn’t miss a day of work.  He was on top of our whole operation, financially and logistically, and served as a true associate publisher.

There was a dark side to Sam, though, even during this early honeymoon period: he was habitually smug and arrogant as he tried to educate Lindy and me on the real mechanics and economics of publishing, as if we were old fogies or born yesterday, and did not know anything about our own press.  While showering us with inflated praise for our creation of a successful company, he spoke like a business-school graduate addressing Ma and Pa Kettle, often using a whiteboard to construct elaborate flow-charts, many of which had the intent of persuading us to divert money above the level of cashflow into marketing aspects of the operation that he favored.  These all seemed to me smoke-and-mirror growth formulas and fancy but vacuous models, oversimplistic and tautological diversions, and I thought that his whiteboard presentations bordered on elaborate “Professor Irwin Corey” doublespeak.  But I kept my mouth shut (even if Lindy didn’t).  After all, Sam was my protégé and buddy.

There were other foreshadowings: his overall sterile and aloof attitude toward the content of our books was jarring for an intellectual, nonprofit publisher and also belied his ostensible top-grade Ivy League academic background.  He knew nothing about holistic health, Buddhism, the occult, or martial arts, but he talked as though he had mastered them along ago, with authority.  He didn’t bother to read or educate himself for the job.  He winged it on what he knew or thought he knew when he arrived.  But it was all second-hand derivative gossip filled with the usual superficial and demeaning mainstream clichés about our key topics.

He pissed off more than a few of our most committed spiritual and New Age authors and copublishers by being condescending or actively insulting and talking down to them.  Then they would complain to me.  But I was blind to Sam’s faults.

One copublisher with whom Sam dealt frequently during his stint with us wrote me years later: “All in all at first he looked like a nice guy, always treated me with respect, but he carried around him some aloof air, as if he were a prince in exile who is temporarily forced to do commoners’ work due to his unfavorable situation….”

Sam never concurred with any of my reports back to him of ruffled feathers, but I suspected that these clients were speaking the truth because I experienced the same off-handedness and condescension in our own discussions.  At the time, I considered it more a personality quirk of his than a legitimate problem.  I took it as an offshoot of Sam’s dignified, almost noble, Gatsby upbringing.  I defended him to our authors and copublishers, claiming that that they were misreading tone for content.

I would turn out to be wrong on that one too for, in truth, Sam was barely even doing a slapdash, perfunctory job of promoting our books.  His debonair attitude and lack of knowledge made him inappropriate and ineffective in reaching out to media.  He turned out in fact to be all attitude and style—no real action and no results.  And I was the one applauding the hollow act.

There were other things that should have been major warning signs to me from the get-go: Sam turned his considerable artistic talent and political acumen into complicated book projects and soon had a number of his own titles working at North Atlantic/Frog and taking huge amounts of his concentration and time.  That he started his employment with us right after 9/11 cast his progressive humanism and multiculturalism in a promising light.  I fell for that idea that we had to represent 9/11 somehow at the press.  In fact, 9/11 made Sam seem the perfect globally-oriented employee to lead us forward in a new and dangerous time.   The philosophy behind some of his book-development work seemed Third World, in support of oppressed nations and ethnic groups—thoughtful, educational, and humane.  How could one begrudge an ambitious employee the opportunity to engage in an important healing process among peoples and nations?  To my mind Sam’s book-making work was truly enterprising, even if a major distraction from his actual job description.  Plus some of it, as you will discover, was self-serving and unethical.  But the overriding point should have been, we hired him as a director sales and marketing, not a graphic novelist nor a political cartoonist.

Enter Walter the Farting Dog, the pooch of great fortune and bad karma.  To my mind, it is no accident that Walter the Farting Dog stirred up King Midas karma wherever he barked (or, if you want, did his other thing).  Walter was the goose that laid the golden eggs; yet he brewed discord and spread ugliness and bad will everywhere he romped.  None of the money he generated was what I call good money.  Good money synergizes prosperity and furthers creative collaboration; it brings people together, spreads grace, and makes citizens happy.  Bad money sows strife, envy, greed, theft, and betrayal.  Walter made bad money, at least for us.

Sam formally began his employment at North Atlantic/Frog in January of 2002, just as Walter was achieving lift-off.  At the time that we signed the commission codicil with him, Walter had already begun to explode, but I didn’t gauge the depth or intensity of the market and, in a classic case of tunnel vision, didn’t even think about its possible effect on commissions as I wrote Sam’s document.  To the degree that I might have let it flit across the horizon of my considerations, I had such a good feeling about him then that I assumed we both understood, informally as well as functionally, that the bonus was to reward his work, not to siphon unearned money to him.  Yet, despite the fact that Walter was beginning to accelerate into a fast trot before Sam showed up at North Atlantic/Frog, I granted him an unbounded and unlimited commission.

Sam later disingenuously rationalized his subsequent position on the legitimacy of his bonus/commission by claiming nearly full responsibility for Walter’s success.  Yet we both know that Walter had already gone ballistic through an entire print run in record time before he arrived.  So then why did I write and sign such a careless, suicidal commission agreement?  No outsider, no judge or jury would ever believe me on the timeline of Sam and Walter because no one would find it credible that I would give away so many of the new riches that we were about to reap to an untested new employee whom I met five minutes ago.  If Walter was already zooming, why was I so willing to give Sam a commission based on total sales?  It made absolutely no sense.  He had to have been the catalyst for this remarkable success.

But Walter’s sales were in fact autonomous; they were not from Sam or anyone else.  To my memory he did one moderately useful thing—he put the title in the Booksense program, meaning that free copies and posters were sent to a number of Northeastern booksellers.  I doubt that this mailing was the tipping point that shot Walter toward the ionosphere, though it probably contributed a quantum.  For long afterward, however, Sam would insist that his Booksense promotion and poster were what launched Walter.  How convenient!  I am sure that he would aver that today if encountered and asked.  He dismissed all other, more compelling scenarios.

The truth at the bottom of such things is never finally uncovered because it never really exists in an absolute sense.  There is no truth.  For all we know, Sam was right, and the butterfly’s wings he flapped via Booksense sent Walters scurrying all across the universe.

Far more relevant to my consideration of the relationship (or lack thereof) between Walter and Sam, and Sam’s contribution, concrete or ineffable, to the book’s meteoric success, was the fact that in his first week on the job he managed to alienate both of the books’ authors and its illustrator by his superior and disdainful attitude toward them.  None of them had any faith in him or his ideas thereafter and they refused to deal with him, effectively creating a gap between us and the authors that made it near impossible to promote the book.  Years later author Bill Kotzwinkle accused Sam of being supercilious, self-serving, and trite in his marketing suggestions.  “He said only what was obvious,” Bill remarked.  “He had no sense of the moment, no enthusiasm or energy, so he missed a huge opportunity.”

In other words, it is as likely that Sam impeded Walter as that he launched it.  He might even have contributed to its sales in a negative way, keeping them from soaring faster and higher.

There were other more serious factors leading to the breach between Walter’s main author (Bill K) and its publisher (me), as I will detail in the next chapter, but Sam was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back.  “He’s a cold fish,” Bill told Audrey the illustrator (and she told me).  “His very personality kills marketing momentum and discourages people from buying the book; he’s a disease and shouldn’t get near it.”

This was hyperbole, self-serving for other reasons, but my point is, I believe that Sam wasted the moment, doing absolutely nothing to jump on a rare opportunity that was unprecedented for us, a chance to take a bestselling book from the tens of thousands to the millions.  He placed no premium on cultivating the authors or synergizing with them.  His passion and attention, by contrast, derailed almost immediately, at about two hundred miles an hour, to a very different priority: creating knockoff books of his own to get himself onto the Walter bandwagon.

In retrospect, I would say that Walter led Sam to see the light, and that light wasn’t North Atlantic Books or a farting dog.  It was his own fame and some of the moolah that was flowing into our office.  Whether Sam was corrupt before he recognized the potential in Walter or whether Walter ruined him, I don’t really know.  But after Walter reached the bestseller lists, Sam was useless for just about anything else at North Atlantic.  All he could see, as a down-market artist and cartoonist, were his own stardom and fortune.

As for the knock-offs, he obviously misread Walter badly, assuming that suddenly and inexplicably any cute book on an animal and its by-products would go through the roof, maybe not as spectacularly as Walter but spectacularly enough by ordinary publishing standards, especially as Frog, Ltd., was now known for having hatched a bestseller.  Monkey belches, cat hairballs, and hedgehog vomit were all fair game to Sam, as he tried to storyboard and draw his own creative characters.  But the truth is, Walter was a serendipitous fluke.  It succeeded by the unusual alchemy of its storyline, its stylistic art, the word “farting,” and a sad mutt; it took all of them pulling together to make it work.  The market blotted out every subsequent attempt by us (or anyone else) at imitation, as I recounted in Chapter Seven.  There weren’t other Walters lurking everywhere and, when Sam decided that his main mission at North Atlantic was to conceive and illustrate them, he truly lost his way among us.

Even as, axiomatically, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so money corrupts, and lots of money hemorrhages.  The sudden cash-registering of Walter created multiple parallel universes.  There was Sam’s universe of posters and sound bites and knock-off books; there was the universe of the story’s co-authors whose main goal was to get this product away from our company and to a big publisher as fast as possible; there was the universe of the artist who suddenly wanted to establish herself with a line of books closer to her own sensibility; and then there were additionally the Frog/NAB universe, the PGW universe, and many distinct universes of public perception.

For now, all I will say is that Sam’s universe and all the rest of these diverged from the moment that Walter became a national hit and, as time passed, the divergence became more and more glaring and lethal.  Whether Sam and we would have fallen out with each other anyway without Walter is a matter of guesswork.  I assume that we would have for different reasons, because there was ultimately a disconnect of philosophy and values.  But Walter amped it to a level of magnitude that changed the nature of the dissonance and raised its stakes exponentially, creating a deadly drama.

I was slow to grok the emerging problems.  In my parallel universe, Sam remained a wonderful guy, the age of our son, an ally, a friend, and he would do nothing to harm our company.  He was Carson reborn, in it with us together, even as he evidenced when he showed up with a soft cast the day after breaking his collarbone or when he joined me in the warehouse packing books.  I knew nothing then of his previous job disaster and benightedly assumed that he would agree with me that he had virtually nothing to do with the sales of Walter and thus would not demand his full commission, which was, already within six months, in excess of $100,000.  Sam was a delightfully hip, wry publishing executive in our midst, or at least a central-casting imitation of one, so I overlooked his imperiousness and heavy-handedness.  I wanted to be on his team and have him on mine.  Sam had other distinctive jive attributes that I can’t divulge without impinging on his identity.

Because of our equally deleterious contract with the authors of Walter (more on that in the next chapter) and the book’s low cover price, we didn’t make much money per book, nor in fact did either of the authors individually make nearly as much as the artist or the bookstores.  If we paid Sam his commission, he would be earning about the same per unit as either author and would be pocketing just about all of our publishing share after expenses.  The commission, calculated on gross rather than net revenue, didn’t take into account our actual margins on individual books.  In Walter’s case, Sam’s 10% of gross was forty percent of Frog’s net on the book, even before overhead, damaged and lost books, and any incidental marketing and other expenses.

Other than Walter, 2002 was generally a bad year for North Atlantic.  For the first time in almost a decade we were in the red and did not give planned raises or any bonuses.  For Sam to get a sudden commission of about $150,000 would create a travesty whereby, with his salary added to his commission, he would be making more than Lindy and me combined and more than any other five people at the company.   And it would all be company red ink and reduce our future capacity to reward other staff.   Paula, as Walter’s designer and the source of its artist, had far more to do with the book’s success than Sam and, if anyone should have been rewarded for its success, it was her.

Since Sam knew our math backward and forward, I assumed he would accept a modest commission in keeping with both his actual contribution and our company’s margin.  In any case, I was preparing to pay him the $20,000 limit that I neglected to write into his contract and I thought he’d be more than happy.  I told myself that he was looking out for the good of the company and the employees in general and would not be unreasonable.

A few of the staff warned me that this was not the way Sam was thinking.  Ed, in particular noticed Sam poring daily over the details of sales, and he could see the money wheels turning.  I told him that Sam was merely doing his job, that he was being unduly suspicious and cynical.  But I was in denial.  Sam was counting his own eggs and could have cared less about ours.

When I finally had a conversation with him, as you can see I was confident that he shared my position, plus was a very humane, temperate person.  I had a little concern but nothing major.  In my office I laid out to him my sense of what had happened: the written agreement did not accurately specify our intent, and anyway Sam had not caused the sales boom of Walter; it had ignited even before he began working at North Atlantic and was driven by other demonstrable things.

Sam disputed every point.  When the discussion took an unpleasant direction and then escalated, I argued that it was downright unfair for him to make such a huge percentage of the actual revenue, more than Lindy and me put together, or to drive the company deeper in the red; we could work out other means of recognition and long-term benefits for him that would be fairer to everyone.  He shouldn’t get money that he didn’t really earn or deserve.

Sam was having none of it.  Far from being only peripherally aware of the numbers as they pertained to him, he was, as Ed forewarned, able to tell me his commission to date to the penny.  He contradicted everything I said and, after initially trying to sweet-talk me into his position by some imagined grand consensus between him and me, he became agitated and accused me of trying to cheat him out of his money.  “It happened to me once, and it’s going to happen again,” he shouted, as I was about to hear an account from his last publishing job.  “I am not going to be robbed by you and Lindy.”

Our relationship had finally melted down to its essentials.  And, you know, in a way he was right.  He may not have earned the commission, but neither did the people who were getting multimillion-dollar bonuses then and later for wrecking the economy and the nation, and yet they were entitled to it by law.  It was money I had promised to Sam, unwisely perhaps but promised nonetheless.

In counterargument to my explication of the numbers vis a vis the NAB/Frog margin, other employees’ salaries, and payroll in general, Sam posed an odd (for him) supply-side argument of prosperity that amounted to: “A rising tide raises all boats” (his exact words).  He proposed, despite the overall NAB/Frog red ink, that, because of Walter’s success, we should give everyone raises prorated to the scale of his.

To my assertion that there wasn’t cashflow to come anywhere close to that, he built up a head of steam behind an diagnosis that he had provided at earlier times, though less insultingly—that Lindy and I were cheap and that that was the main thing holding our company back.  He said we should take the surplus money out of the savings account and reward everyone right away. “You’re misers and Scrooges, and you’re the ones depriving your staff, not me.  You’re not fooling anyone by blaming me for everyone else’s poverty.  I at least looked out for myself.” 

He then declared that he had come to us by fate in order to teach Lindy and me the lesson of how to create prosperity.  Paying him what he was due would existentially change the nature of our business and create more wealth.  Conversely, he said, my trying to take his money away from him would just reinforce the poverty mentality of the press and generically create future poverty.  This was scary megalomania and had the ring of a corrupt preacher played by Harry Dean Stanton.

After establishing himself as unwilling to budge one iota on how much he was due and giving this New Agey, Reaganesque lecture, Sam suddenly turned “good cop,” put the charm back on, and offered an alternative as his “great and generous compromise.”

The present commission agreement was written for only for one year.  If we would agree to extend it with no termination date, he would agree to reduce his commission for past sales by a third and also accept only a 5% commission in the future, as long as this lower commission permanently was factored into his remuneration.  He promised that he would, in effect, take his points off his side of the scoreboard.  He also asked me for two other concessions: to write a letter reaffirming his status as an employee in good standing and to promise to continue to back his personal author projects.  In addition, he concluded with a burst of sudden warmth and compassion, he would commit himself to raising North Atlantic’s sales to the point where his commission would a pittance and we could, ta-da, afford to pay everyone the same bonus as him and still make a profit.

I was simultaneously disgusted and delighted, dismayed and hopeful.  While I didn’t buy any of it in my heart, I was relieved by Sam’s dramatic and sudden conversion to a positive tone and desire to compromise.  I saw nothing ominous in it.  Despite the disturbing premises underlying much of what he said, I left our confab buoyed by a sense that we were headed away from the brink, that we had achieved a degree of real understanding and, most important, that Sam was really on our side and supportive of the press.

Our interaction should have led me to the opposite conclusion.  I was coming out of the archetype of Chamberlain at Munich; in fact, peace in our company was not preserved.  Sam’s appetite was whetted by my appeasement.  Furthermore, to my astonishment, Walter’s sales kept rising to the point where 5% of the new level became actually much greater than 10% of the old level. As the dog went climbing up the New York Times Bestseller list, Sam was making even more money than before!  And now there was no time limit or escape hatch.

Things were deteriorating in a profound and metastatic way.  As months passed, both staff and authors noticed that Sam was becoming dismissive and rude at unprecedented levels and to a shocking degree.  For example, he told one author that his book was worthless crap and nobody would buy it, and he confided to a staff-person that he was running the company now, not Lindy and me.

Lindy and I left Berkeley for three months in Maine and didn’t return till October.  A portion of Sam’s worsening behavior occurred then, so was not in our immediate scope.  His main fault, from our perspective across the country, was that he wasn’t communicating with us worth a damn.  I now see that, to his mind, yes, he had taken over the company, and we were old guard, merely in the way.  And we weren’t even on site for a quarter of the year.

Undeterred, I was still, believe it or not, in a larger gestalt of seeing Sam as good, the rebirth of Carson.  On our return from Maine I him Sam reasonable and, although the bonus was climbing rapidly again, I mainly tried to keep the peace.  When I questioned him regarding one or another train of gossip about his behavior, he put a spin on it to show how he had been misheard or misunderstood.

Ed, Allison, Brooke, Susan, and a few others wanted me to act and get him out of there, but I reassured them that the problems were exaggerated and things were fine—it was more a matter of Sam’s abrasive style than substance.

I was way underestimating the crisis.

Sam also had a few loyalists among the staff, and people were wagering on how this was going to turn out.

A few things beyond the growing shadow of his commissions got in the way over the next six months or so.

Sam’s and my central confrontation came to involve Joshi, the musician in our warehouse.  Joshi had thought up a children’s book about the rat at the old Ninth-Street site, a fantasy in which our warehouse rat actually read the books at night, developed a taste for fine literature, and became a fan of the press.  This was a kind of “inside publishing” idea that, back then, in the innocent, halcyon days of Walter, actually looked like a golden venture.

No sooner than Joshi floated the concept, Sam declared himself his co-author and began instructing Susan in writing a contract giving him half the potential royalty and not to tell me.  She told me.

The relationship between Sam and me was periodically frayed by wild rumors and my gathering suspicions, so this time I sailed into his office and, after confirming Susan’s account, told him bluntly that I didn’t want him getting involved in this project: “It is something that doesn’t need you and anyway it’s Joshi’s book.  You don’t want to be the type of manager who uses your employees or takes advantage of them.  Plus, why can’t you just be a supervisor and not have to get a financial stake in everything at the company?  Don’t you have enough already?”

These were fighting words to him and, I could see, at once he took them as a major slur on his credibility and honor.  In a startlingly swift and proactive version of his usual “I never do anything wrong” tactic, Sam immediately led me down the hall and around the corner to the warehouse where he orchestrated a dialogue with an uneasy and pretty much inarticulate Joshi.  It was to acknowledge that it was Joshi who had approached Sam and asked him to be his co-author and partner, not the other way around.  “You said you couldn’t do the book without me, right?” Sam asked him to confirm.  Joshi nodded.

This was breathtaking arrogance and bullying to witness, and Sam had so much hubris that he didn’t realize how it looked.  I was shocked at his new sense of control and entitlement.

Then, within a week, three different authors complained separately that Sam had asked them for blurbs for his own books—bad enough in itself—but he aggravated the matter by suggesting, not very subtly, that he would do more sales and marketing for them if they would deliver.  Each, in turn, refused and then reported this lack of ethics and ugly behavior by our employee.

Meanwhile PGW informed us that Sam was not being cooperative with them either.  He was lecturing them on the book business rather than responding to their needs, not coming to requested meetings or providing any of the data or back-up they asked for.  One of them summed it up by saying, “The dude thinks he’s too cool for school.”  The originating reason for hiring Sam had also become moot.

Increasing numbers of authors now called or wrote me with the particularly rude or sarcastic things Sam had said to them, usually belittling their work and showing his low regard for it.  They were shocked and thought I should know.  This was fast becoming an epidemic.

And then there was Sam’s body language: bad bad bad.  Fourteen months after his arrival, he was walking around like the King of North Atlantic Books, conversing only with a few cronies.  He had stopped attending meetings and would act affronted if disturbed, staying mainly closeted in his office, the door closed, doing god knows what, illustrating god knows what and, of course, earning more than Lindy and me put together

Brooke discovered by chance that, among other things, he was engaging in outside work on our time, consulting with other authors and presses and as a freelance illustrator.

“The fox is in the chicken coop with the chickens,” Ed commented, “and I don’t see why you expect him to come out on his own.  After all, he’s the fox and he’s where he knows he’s supposed to be.”

I caucused with Sam again in the spring of his second year, having laid the groundwork, per Steve Rood’s advice in relation to the changed situation, with a letter enumerating all the problems and suggesting that we find a way to end our relationship and employment peaceably.  The jig, in essence, was up.  That’s what Steve instructed me to do.

I told only Ed, Jess, and Brooke about the meeting, but soon everyone knew, and rumors flew was that Sam would be fired.   There was a mood of anticipation.

When Sam came into my office with a big but wary smile, I imagined that I was well prepared for him this time.  He let me talk first, even though he had no doubt already read the letter.  I told him that I couldn’t operate under the existing circumstances anymore.  I tried to put our dispute in the best possible light, complimenting him for his achievements on our behalf but giving reasons why he and North Atlantic weren’t a match.

Things had gotten much too far along by then; they had settled in trenchant and deep.  I was beginning to understand that I was up against a very serious pathology; perhaps I even had a full-fledged sociopath in my employ.   The fox had developed an addictive attachment to his job, his position of power and favor-dispensation, and of course an almost obscene revenue flow into his paycheck.  He had probably been long expecting this confrontation with me and, since he had a day to digest the letter, he was prepared.  When I finished my speech, he became agitated almost immediately, pacing up and down in my office, repeating the refrain, “You can’t fire me.”

His logic began with “You can’t fire me because I am essential to this company” or “The staff supports me not you,” but when I wasn’t amenable to either, he pulled out his ace, just like that, from a bad script: “I know of irregularities in the relation between the nonprofit and for-profit here and, if you fire me, I’ll go to the IRS and report you”; then finally “If you fire me, I’ll sue you and put you out of business.”  Then “you can’t fire an employee with a bonus under California law.”

During our marathon meeting of well over an hour he turned several times on a dime, going back and forth between pleading and threatening, between looking wounded and looking menacing.  “In his world they teach that sort of behavior with mother’s milk,” Ed told me later.  “He looked down on all of us from the beginning.  He thought he was better than us.  He’s the lord of the manor and he has the lord’s techniques down pat.  Richard, I used to think you were the mountain and could deflect anyone, but you met a bigger mountain.  The mountain met the mountain.”

Sam’s performance that afternoon, however transparent and petulant and even borderline psychotic, was effective because it was totally out of control and emotionally upsetting.  I had no exit and a lot at stake.  He toyed with my feelings, as I wavered between terror and empathy, ancient paranoid fears and a wish to abide by the mantra “why can’t we all just get along?”  Lindy was also having surgery later that week, and I was emotionally fragile.

The drama reached its sublime and most surreal point when Sam grabbed a chair, pulled it up to my own chair so that our faces were a few inches apart, and pronounced, “This isn’t for me.  This is for you.  You should listen to me for your own good.  I’m here to save you.  Listen to me.  Don’t look away.  Meet my eyes.”

He put his hands of my thighs as he leaned forward, pausing for a moment.  “I am your teacher,” he finally said, “I’m your therapist.  You might as well cancel your expensive psychology appointments because they’re not needed.   I’m here to give you all the therapy you need.”

I was so astonished and appalled by this intimacy and its rap that I sat there frozen in place, fascinated and repulsed.

Then he changed on a dime again, stood up and, tears in his eyes, pleaded that he loved the company and was sorry if he had done anything inappropriate or offended anyone.  “I know that I’ve been a rough on some of the authors.  I let my cynicism and contempt get the best of me.  It won’t happen again.”  He asked for a second chance, just till the end of the year, to prove himself worthy of my confidence in him.  He would end his commissions entirely starting next year, he promised.  He would give Joshi back his book.  He would apologize to any authors he alienated.  He would tell the people from whom he solicited blurbs that he would promote their books to the best of his ability regardless.  He had memorized all the points in my letter and was checking each one off with a promise to reform.

By the time the performance and litany were over, I was transformed.  I wanted to be transformed.  I was totally drained.  I was not convinced by his sincerity, but his routine again had the effect of melding fear with sympathy, worry about my whole world and life with my desire for peace and relief.  I wanted to end our interminable conflict, and not just end it but leave the meeting with a deep overriding sense of hope that there was some way to make this all come out okay.  I wanted to get back on his side and have him root for Lindy and me and the press again rather than try to destroy it.

It had become too deep a crisis and serious a wound to allow it to be actual and festering.  So I declared it healed.

When Sam and I ended our—whatever it was—gestalt therapy, confrontation, rapprochement, EST dyad…he continued down the hall to his office, and I went straight to Ed’s office.  When I told him that Sam was staying and would make things right, he was astonished and visibly disappointed.  As word spread, so did the unhappiness.

But I had had my own little epiphany, and the key thing was that I believed in Sam again, and everyone knew it and made the best of it.  I worked at selling this guy to the staff over the following months so that, when Lindy and I left that year for Maine, our hero was back in the saddle buoyed with our trust, still earning his commission.  Once again I had failed at Munich, and once again things only got worse.

During the summer, I received a battery of reports that Sam’s behavior had gotten, if possible, weirder and more erratic.  He was now totally inaccessible, working on freelance stuff most of the time and continuing to insult authors and copublishers.  I called Steve Rood and conferred.  We both agreed that we had misread Sam entirely from the beginning.   He knew and I knew that when I returned to Berkeley, I had to fire him.

I thought about it for the last month of the summer and much of the way on the plane.  I thought about it lying awake in the middle of nights after getting back.  I let a week pass to settle in.  Then I proceeded into Sam’s office and said in effect, “I can’t do this any more.  You’ll have to leave.”

Speak of possession by evil!  It became an exorcism.

Sam wept and then he cursed.  He pleaded and then he almost hit me.  He blandished and then he insulted.  His final words were black as night, as the devil in him finally came loose and literally hissed in its true tongue, a hoarse semi-whisper as he suddenly lost his voice: “I’m running this company, not you!  I am!  I am!  Get out of my office!”  Then, as I turned to leave: “I’ll put you out of business; I’ll ruin you.  You can’t do this and get away with it.”  Still hissing.

Ed laughed at my account, “Poor guy.  He’s probably never failed at anything before in his life.  He’s momma’s boy.  He’s always gotten his way.”

Steve likened it to surgery to remove a tumor.

I think exorcism is the right term.  I felt as though I had seen the devil behind the mask.

Sam was supposed to leave within a week, but the following Monday he was still at his post, the door closed, talking on the phone, working on art at his desk.  He had an attorney now, and the guy was engaged in negotiations with Steve, trying to get a whopping severance package as well as an extension of his bonus.

This gradually got whittled down to his assurance that his client would leave at the end of the year willingly if he was paid his full commission for the year and three months severance pay and prorated bonus.  Steve didn’t like it, so he said, “Let him sue.”

When Sam still wouldn’t leave the premises, Steve called his attorney and told him, “Get your boy out of the office.”

When his attorney was unable to convince him to leave, Steve said, “Then we’re going to call the police.”

That did it.  Sam returned the next day only to clean out his desk.  We then sent him his commission as calculated to date.

A few weeks later his attorney mailed Steve an alternative analysis with a much higher figure, adjusting our math cleverly.  His recalculations were based on projected Christmas sales as well as prorated higher figures by massaging average sales over the last five years to give a lower baseline.  All in all he had us owing Sam another $300,000.  In the same messengered packet, he produced a copy of the letter I wrote a year or so earlier stating that Sam was an employee in good standing, dryly remarking that his client must have suddenly turned bad.  “Might it have been because he was earning too much of a bonus, because his work was too good?”

He went on to claim that Sam was being fired without justification, and our sole motive for removing his client was to prevent him from earning a commission that he was legally and morally entitled to.

Yes, that’s what we were doing too, but who could blame us by then?

It was theater of the absurd, but it wasn’t absurd; it was the American legal system at work.  Steve tried to negotiate the matter, but Sam’s attorney was only interested in Steve presenting an acceptable figure of what we would pay Sam.  Finally Steve said, “They won’t budge, and I’m not going to negotiate against myself.  If he’s going to go to court, he will go to court no matter what number I come up with except his one.  I’m not going to give him $300,000.  If he litigates, at least we’ll know where we stand.”

A whole winter and spring and summer went by, and we had almost reached the end of another year and I was beginning to consider that maybe Sam had decided to be satisfied with his existing booty and was out of our life and on with his own.

Then one evening at our home, the doorbell rang.  It seemed to be a solicitor, so I wasn’t going to open the door, but the young man knew our names.  When there was no wooden slab between us, he handed me a packet.

Sam had served papers on us, a filing in Alameda County Court, the attorney asking for $1 million in lost wages and commissions while alleging bad faith on our part from the beginning.

I felt a rush of fear as I suddenly pictured a Kafakesque series of events that would deliver on Sam’s promise to put us out of business.  This was to be the first of many sleepless nights.

Now, years later, I realize that this entire crisis was relatively minor and bounded.  From naivité I was exaggerating it in my mind and letting my emotions, the echo of old traumas in my blood, and a dozen streams of Jewish, hippie, and general recreational paranoia embellish and inflate the matter into some sort of looming apocalypse.  It was a big nothing.  Just money.  Less than a month’s cashflow.  It was business as usual in America, the way the game is played.  At any point I could have, and should have, ended it by paying enough money for Sam to go away.  We were a big enough business by then that it wouldn’t have made a dent.  We would have dinged our savings account a little, as we finally did anyway, but that’s all.

I couldn’t see that, though, until the crisis was long past.  I was caught up in Sam’s cult of personality, my sense of his deceit and betrayal, plus pure terror that he could somehow bring down our house.

His was a relatively small-time sting, if sting it was.  It was I who turned the molehill into a mountain, even as Dana Ullman and I had done a decade earlier with our loony litigious author in Boston.

I misread everything and made all the wrong choices when it counted.  But that’s how I was brought up; that’s how I learned.  Sam had the better education.  He was truly equipped for our encounter; I wasn’t.

When presented with the packet that had come to our doorstep, Steve said that this wasn’t his kind of work, that we needed a specialist, a labor lawyer.  So he, Lindy, and I went to downtown Oakland on Monday and Thursday of the following week.  We interviewed a couple of lawyers and selected a really good guy.

I was quickly reassured by our new lawyer, the afore-mentioned Sun/Office Depot guy, an African-American Harvard grad.  He promised that Sam would not go to the IRS, nor would they even listen to a disgruntled employee with that kind of message: “He’s just saying that to rattle you and get an edge.  It’s not the way these things work.”

I continued to lie awake nights, imagining the worst possible outcomes.  On the one hand, I had begun to realize that Sam’s behavior had been truly weird and, if not illegal, was at least marginally ethical.   As I went back dozens of times over the history of events and our many interactions, it didn’t seem that we had ever really done anything wrong.  We were the good guys here, well-intentioned and considerate of Sam, all the way back to the initial attempt to satisfy his disappointment with our salary.  I may have been over-generous for personally neurotic reasons, but my instinct had at least been decent, decent then and decent all through the engagement.  Sam may have had legalities on his side, as his documents trumpeted, but I wondered how anyone could really think he was personally wronged.

Then I would pull some dread courtroom fantasy out of the dark reaches of my soul and have to start calming myself down all over again.

It soon became clear that Sam too was picturing an epic encounter, one that involved dragging our present and former staff into court, especially the few he fancied as allies.  He had already contacted two recent employees fired by North Atlantic and was apparently trying to build a case against our company as exploitative over a number of years.

A staff person from the labor lawyer’s office interviewed our employees, collecting the story on our end from many different perspectives in preparation for a trial.  Buoyed by the collective narrative, our attorney expressed his sincere conviction that we not the plaintiff were the victims.  That’s when he said his line about “the worst case of employee abuse ever.”  He informed Sam’s lawyer that his client might be not as innocent as he thought, and the case might not be a slam-dunk.

According to our guy, Sam had put on a good enough show to convince his own attorney that his version of the events was pretty much what happened.  The lawyer knew nothing of our commensurate company salaries, corroborated instances of Sam’s abuse of power, complaints from authors, Joshi’s rat book, hands on my thighs, etc.  Throw in a few technical points of labor law on our side, and Sam’s guy quickly and unceremoniously reduced the amount of money he was requesting by around eighty percent.  But that still didn’t end it; there was too much still unresolved and up for grabs.

Almost two months into the case, with “discovery” looming, our attorney presented his summary and made a proposition to Lindy, Steve, and me in his office, addressing mainly Lindy and me with his attention and gaze:

“You’ve committed every mistake in the book.  You offered him a commission without stating his terms of employment or that he was also subject to California’s at-will provision.  That puts you in a position of virtually having him as an executive partner and seeming to fire him solely in order to deny him his commission.  Then you extended his commission without a termination date.  You attempted to fire him twice without any witnesses in the room.  You wrote him long emails and letters that are packed with material that can be used against you.  You signed off on his being a model employee.  His lawyer asks, and so would a judge or jury, ‘So what suddenly made him not a model employee?  The fact he was earning too much money?’

“The bigger issue is that you two are running a five-million dollar business as if it were a cottage industry in your house.  You are doing things in a touchy-feely way, and it is no wonder that someone finally tried to take advantage.  It would have happened eventually.  In the future you have to write formal hire letters, citing sections of California labor law.  You have to document all your actions.  You can’t just do this business informally like hippies.  You can’t give off-the-cuff commissions without understanding the legal implications of your language.

“Too bad I wasn’t involved sooner.  I would have prevented you from making most of these mistakes and, if I only stopped you from committing one of them, I probably could get this whole matter dropped.  As it is, you’re not in that bad shape because there is no way any jury in Alameda County is going to buy this guy’s story.  It doesn’t pass the smell test.  Look at how much money he was earning relative to the other employees at North Atlantic Books.  He was putting the company in the red solely by his commissions and bonuses.  And he was going to portray himself as the victim? Good luck!

“He’s probably going to say that he made your business what it was, but the numbers don’t support that.  Walter was selling before he came.  Your overall sales didn’t improve while he was there.

“He’ll lose, and his attorney knows that.  Going the court route, though, will cost you a lot of money, at least a hundred thousand dollars—and it will take a year or more to get to a jury.  You will lose time, resources, and you will be dominated by this for years.  You won’t gain any money if you win.  Your employees will have to come to court and testify.

“Believe me—I’ve been doing this a long time—we are looking at unambiguous employee abuse, but that doesn’t get you anywhere.  You don’t want this lawsuit.  Do yourselves a favor.  If you can afford it, and I know you can, give yourselves and your staff the best gift in the world.  Hold your nose and pay this guy.  I can get you out of it for a tenth of what he’s asking.  He’s the violator here, but it doesn’t matter.  He has enough law on his side, and you’ve made enough mistakes, that he can drag it out, and there is no way for you to beat him short of a jury, and it’s not worth it to go to court for that.”

It was the right advice, a zen slap that woke me up from not only years but a lifetime of dreaming.  It was the last rung of my business initiation.  I was suddenly in the adult kiva for the sacred ceremony of passage.  I finally became all that I dreaded in my father and stepfather: an American businessman, a game-player.  I crossed the river then, and I have, ever since, been on the other side.

We paid Sam what amounted to most of the rest of our Walter profits to that point, making him the single biggest beneficiary of the farting dog after the artist.  We returned to him the rights to his own books.  Clauses in the settlement protected us against further action or harrassment by him.  Just like that, it was over.  And it cost, really, nothing.  What a gift!  In every sense.  What a teaching!

For a long time I saw this event mostly in black and white.  I understood my errors but felt they were mostly ones of innocence and good faith, whereas Sam’s were, to my mind, devious, strategic, and diabolic.  He took advantage of us.  He used threats and psychological warfare, and he cared not a whit for anyone in the company or the human implications of his actions.  He had no empathic capacity to consider the effects of his actions on anyone else.  They were geared solely to his own selfish interest and gain.  He thought he somehow merited all the profits of a company that Lindy and I had created and spent thirty years building, while he had been there a year and change.  He thought he was too hip, beautiful, and genius a specimen of humanity to be denied.

Behind Sam’s charm, there was only an affable sociopath.

Sam wanted his piece first and his piece only and then he would worry about other people’s livelihoods and fates, maybe.  Or perhaps he was so jaded by his previous job’s rip-off that he saw us only as a sitting duck whereby to get his redemption and revenge.

I remarked earlier that there are some people who don’t know where to draw the line, they want everything.  Sam was, to me, the epitome of this pathology.  All the way along, there were countless opportunities for him to show recognition of the actual situation, to back off and reconcile, to be in dialogue rather than contention.  If he had simply allowed himself to accept, during the first year, that $20,000 or even $40,000 was enough commission for him, as it was certainly more than he ever dreamed he would earn—if he had done his job well rather than spending his time trying the parley Walter into a personal windfall—he would likely have remained an employee in good standing and grown with the company.  He would have made far more money in the long run and built a career.

But it was Sam’s absolute conviction that he was owed every penny and he was going to get it or its equivalent in value, despite the provisionary character of the event as a whole.  No matter what, he wasn’t going to yield.  It wasn’t in his repertoire.  The prey was in sight; he had come much too far with his rifle to sheathe it suddenly in the name of the Angel or the Buddha.  He wanted the golden eggs, whether the goose lived or not.

I have been on both sides of intractable situations like this—we all have—and whenever someone yields spontaneously, miracles happen in your opponent.  Generosity is contagious.  Generosity turns around armies.  Generosity transforms civilizations and changes history.  At core, I buy the New Age sentiment that the universe is a machine of love.  Truth and reconciliation are really all that is left on Earth but all that is needed on Earth.

In the game called life, and the game of life called business (played with money), without a limit in mind on how much profit is necessary for oneself and how much victory is needed to feel good about stuff, when there are no limits, intrinsic or extrinsic, then there is no way to moderate behavior and no reason to act decently.  Years later executives at AIG and Bear Stearns and Bernie Madoff proved this in textbook fashion.  Sam didn’t know how to place a limit on his own rewards, and he never found a way to meet my desire for mutual transformation.  He didn’t want to be Carson or a hero or even a little bodhisattva.

Just look at the ravages of unbound capitalism internationally—capitalism that does not know when to stop, since profit is potentially limitless and there is always a higher number, so why not go for it, the environment and the fate of the poor of the Earth be damned.  Blow up that millennia-old coral reef to get a few fish today.  One can always rationalize, for instance, that the effect on the environment is a pittance compared to other indecencies being committed by competitors or other nations, or that you might as well cash in while you can because the opportunity might not come again (and you blew your prior chance).  Or if you don’t do it, someone else will.  I saw a bumper sticker today: “I know how you feel.  I just don’t care.”  How to draw the limit and keep your humanity is the real challenge.  For me too.  For any of us.

The interaction with Sam was an esoteric event for both of us, an opportunity to learn.  And we each succeeded and failed, at something.  In any case, we succeeded because esoteric events leave no other possible outcome.  What had to happen happened.

I saw Sam at a BookExpo a couple of years later, after he had started his own press, no doubt on his winnings from North Atlantic.  At the advice of my colleague walking the floor with me, Mark Ouimet, the guy who ultimately replaced Sam, I didn’t meet his glance or acknowledge him.  “You have to pretend he doesn’t exist and look right through him,” Mark commented at the time.  “There is no other way to deal with people like that.  There isn’t any reconciliation possible.  You don’t want to have a fight right there, and you don’t want to blow it off because what he did was unforgivable.  The guy dissed your company and robbed your house.  He can’t be forgiven.”

As time has passed, though, I have come to a different interpretation:

My original analysis was that I was naïve and misread Sam from the beginning, that he was the “sociopath next door” who slyly charmed his way in and then ruthlessly took advantage of us.

The more esoteric interpretation is that, psychically and intuitively, I knew exactly who Sam was from the get-go and hired him in order to get the teachings he would bring and thereby advance me to the next level of knowledge, our company to the next stage of development—not the “next stage” Sam proposed with his prosperity formulas but its own next phase of sophistication and professionalism.  He stripped us bare of our remaining hippie vestiges and pointed us toward a professional resolution.

I didn’t intuit any of this consciously, only the shape of its energy, an energy I could feel without knowing what it meant or what it would do.  Part of me may have shunned letting such an energy into our lives—and I would certainly have not done it if its content had been transparent—but another part of me perversely and wisely sought this alien entity, for it presented an opportunity to make a quantum leap that I seemed unable or unwilling to hazard otherwise.  It presented a singular transformative crisis.

Sam allowed North Atlantic to leave its penultimate phase of hippie childhood; he freed us of the burden of scrimping and showed us how much more there was to gain by not being so anal—not in his “rising tide lifts all boats” sense but in the context that being pennywise and unprofessionally subjective in relationships leads to being pound-poor and focused on only the most petty things.  For that we paid a huge price, but it was a valuable and expensive teaching.  By taking so much money out of the press unethically, Sam made us looser about money in general and its uses, just as he had proposed he would.

Sam took away what he needed also—the capital to start his own press and publish his own books, the independence and gumption to do what he should have done in the beginning, before even his last prior employment: an entrepreneurial gig instead of hiring out.

In the end Sam cost us less than the value of the changes he initiated.  We became who we were.  We flew out of the nest.  At that stage of our development, as noted, a few hundred thousand dollars was not going to make much of a difference—the basic cost of Sam’s lesson.  If we couldn’t learn it any other way, we were going to have to learn it by paying him.  In fact, his bonus was no more than if we had not done Walter— a will-o’-wisp of an afternoon in Maine. We were no worse off than that, and a lot wiser.

It wasn’t even quite that bad; it didn’t take all our Walter money.

We probably each could have achieved our goals more painlessly and cheaply.  I think that most of his money was squandered by Sam on his lawyers and the ultimately unprofitable books that were published under his own imprint in an attempt to imitate Walter—and a large portion of what we lost to Sam would have been eaten up in taxes on Frog anyway.

Business tends to level most pluses and minuses.  What is gained in one arena (such as sales) is squandered on employees, publicity, bad book choices, or consigned to taxes.  The economic culture is a leveling one both ways.  It is better not to equivocate and fuss around on compulsive details when everything is moving so much faster, exponentially faster in a universe made of light in which time in an illusion.

Two years after Sam departed, we hired Mark Ouimet and signed a contract with Random House.  I don’t know why I say this and it doesn’t line up with the pragmatic facts, but I suspect none of it would have happened without Sam.  We would have gone a different route, a less attractive alternate universe: both of us—Sam and me—hysterical drama queens compared to what was actually happening on the field of play, what was going to happen.

I don’t hold particular animus toward Sam anymore; he wasn’t Carson, but he was an engaging young man whom I liked and still like.  I forgive him and am grateful for the lesson.  But I wouldn’t want to have anything professional to do with him again.

Chapter 19: Crises 3: Bad Karma from the Farting Dog | Table of Contents

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ed December 2, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Enjoyed your writing about Grossinger’s Hotel. I worked there in the mid seventies as a night auditor. It was a great experience living and working there. I especially recall with gratitude how well employees were treated. I felt like a guest. I lived on the top floor of Milton Berle Building. Employee dining room had great food and even waiters. I went on from there to manage and now own my own hotel. Your family business taught me how to treat employees. It was a great lesson that I went on to learn is rarely copied. I would love to visit Grossinger’s one day. Great memories indeed.

Polly Hough November 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Thanks to Richard and responders for an interesting dialogue, some of which seems helpful, but too much seeking to blame Hillary for losing, when she fought as hard as she could to continue what she could of Obama’s Legacy, which has benefited many, though not enough. Thanks also to Congress! I do wonder about her handlers and advisors’ thinking. Trump’s smoke screen of scandalous comments has obscured our view, and perhaps obscured the complexity of the problems. Hillary has apologized for her errors, and had the right to her point of view. I do wish that she had embraced more heartily Sanders’ populist approach and even chosen him to be her Vice Presidential contender, but I think they still might have lost. She had a workable platform, he had charisma and slogans. With work, they could have unified their vision. But neither addressed the “rigging” that I see Republicans do every day here in Utah. Is it so common that we don’t see it?
I suspect the truth of why the Democrats lost lies in the systematic cheating that the Republicans set up long ago, which was not sufficiently revealed and decried. It is time to read Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman’s,” The Flip & Strip Death of American Democracy…”, ( and look into the rigging in each state, particularly those key ones that lost her the election. She didn’t lose by that much if you face up to the weak democratic institutions we have going, and the way it allows the Electoral College system to malfunction without corrective. Let’s quit grieving and get to work fixing the damn thing. Too much is at stake. Trump’s finger should not be on the Nuclear button.

Linda November 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm

I just finished Ron Sieh’s book and would love to take lessons from him. Can you tell me where is and if he’s teaching?

Vegeko December 2, 2015 at 12:05 pm

You can find pictures of here. Should I aemttpt to preface the city of a hundred spires, its lovely architecture cannot be forgotten. Search in your memory for a name of any style you can think of. Prague will almost certainly have some landmark to offer – be it from hundreds of years ago such as Romanesque rotunda or from numerous eras spanning centuries. The latter can be represented by the picturesque Prague Castle with its truly magnificent St Vitus’s Cathedral or the tiny (and that is probably one of the reasons why) fairy-tale like Golden Lane. The same applies to architectonic landmarks “remembering” merely several decades such as the precious Cubist pearls scattered here and there in Prague’s winding streets, buildings, , theaters, museums.

Richard Grossinger August 16, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Thanks for the comment. It was meant to serve a healing function itself, as there is not really a general cure for optical migraines. But no, I don’t have a lot of specific or topic-oriented feedback. Most of it is on the same level of yours: general usefulness of the book. As probably goes without saying (from my quotes and bibliography), I consider Oliver Sacks’ book Migraine very useful, but the best one is a book that our press published for which Sacks wrote the preface: Migraine Art. It is more than a picture book; it goes into great detail on the categories of auras and their effects. Richard

Jackie Perkins August 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Hi Richard,
I read your book about migraine auras several years ago and have reread it several
times. Thank you so much for writing it as it helps me when I have a bout of
auras with very little headache. I was wondering if you have had a lot feedback
from fellow sufferers and if you have learned anything more about them since
the book was written. Can you refer me to any other sources to help me make
peace or get rid to them completely.
Any comments will be appreciated,\.

Jacqueline phillips December 29, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for sharing. Raised in the village of Liberty. Worked the switchboard at the G as a teenager. Went to school with Sandy. Sad it did not continue.

david hovey August 27, 2014 at 9:40 am

my mother and aunt were bauer sisters..founder of lpga golf association..i spent many summers up there..great..miss it

Richard Grossinger May 22, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Dear Jim, Thanks for writing. You were really there at the core of my time, a rare thing. I don’t specifically remember you, though. Let me know if you want the two books, New Moon and/or Out of Babylon, as I can send them for just the cost of the postage. Richard

jim blankenship May 22, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I enjoyed reading about your family and experience at Grossingers. I worked there, along with Teddy Howard, as the house photographer from 1958-1961. It was quite an experience meeting and photographing many of the celebrities and sports figures. I had been on the staff at NY Daily news in the city prior to this so I enjoyed the life in Liberty and Sullivan Co. My wife and I live in Atlanta now. We were married in Liberty in 1960……. Jim Blankenship AP Photographer,retired

Richard Grossinger January 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Kris. I have send the review around to our staff, and there is even some tentative thought about including it as a foreword to one of the two 50th-anniversary Io anthologies that we are releasing next year (2015). If we were to pursue that, would you like to rewrite it or perhaps punctuate it more conventionally (close open parentheses, etc.)?
I’d be curious to know your actual critique of my political statements. You don’t actually say, taking it for granted that it is obvious, though part of your point is that it isn’t obvious to me, and it isn’t. I can guess, but I could easily be wrong. For instance, it isn’t actually clear that you are not the Australian (or other) offended equivalent of a Conservative Republican.
Although I do pose those arguments seriously, they are also at the level of myth, and I speak to that occasionally. I have no special insight into political matters, but I do throw myself into the mythology for what it expresses. I think that one can be literally “wrong” and still mythologically accurate. For instance, in the case of Obama, he is not literally who I have portrayed him as, but the myth is still authentic. In that regard, you might note my Facebook post on him recently, also on this website.
Also ironically enough in this regard, enough people are ONLY reading the political parts of my writing, enough so that Andrew Harvey has urged me to collect them in their own book as part of his Spiritual Activism imprint. This doesn’t make me any less off-base any more than that that refutation is obvious.
No complain here. I’m just interested to know what you are actually saying. I have spent most of my life in America, whether in compliance or reaction.
The whole “Ken Wilber” thing is an interesting story of its own, far too labyrinthine to tell. The very short version of it is that a writer friend in Maine with whom I occasionally hiked and whose work I supported and helped get published suddenly went ballistic against me and not only made those comments about me and Wilber, which I paraphrased, but wrote such, strong threatening emails that friends I showed them to urged me to take them to the police. They were what mafia might write.
The thing that set him off was that after a hike I naively wrote a piece (like many of the other pieces in 2013 and Bardo of Waking Life) about the events on the hike and our dialogue and then sent it to him (from NYC en route back to California) with the idea that he and I might collaborate on a piece about our experiences that day. Making him a character in my piece, even though it was informal and unpublished and I was offering him an edit and a collaboration, had the effect of triggering a response so extreme that I didn’t actually believe he was serious at first. I apologized profusely, trashed the piece, and yet the emails kept coming, up to the “mafia” level. What made this all the more inexplicable was the fact that prior to my transgression in writing the piece, he had been a good friend, and I had been pretty much his main supporter in the larger world, finding him a venue in which to publish.
Now that’s the shell of the story, and the piece you comment on came out of that, is my displaced response to it. I didn’t want to repeat the original error by being any more specific and singling him out in any way. The underlying issues are probably of a whole different order.
Since then, we have mellowed out, though are no longer friends and don’t hike together anymore. Meanwhile I have had a lot of indirect contact with Wilber in the sense that two of his main students who live in the Bay Area have read Dark Pool of Light and consider it relevant to the Wilber tradition and thus have spent time with me, talking. So right after I declared myself completely separate from all that, I got brought back into it in more benign and pleasant terms.
I hope that you take a look at Dark Pool, as what I began in 2013 is brought to its culmination in there. Really what my work is about, and what I make my stand on, is not the political ideology or even the literary voice so much, but the cosmic vision, and then putting it into viable literary form. I will post this on Facebook too. Richard

Kris Hemensley January 6, 2014 at 12:47 am

I’m amazed & humbled at yr reprinting of my review… Thank you. Looking forward to reading you anew in 2014! Cheers, Kris Hemensley

Richard Grossinger September 16, 2013 at 4:21 am

They have not been updated, but I have started work on a fourth volume posted on this website. Also the fourth volume is really now the “fifth”
volume because I have rewritten The Night Sky as a de facto fourth volume. It will be out next spring. See the home page of this site for a table of contents. Also I will continue to post interviews with me about the books, audio, video, and text. Thanks for reading them and for inquiring.

Jim Weddington September 16, 2013 at 3:31 am

I have all three volumes of “Dark Pools of Light” in nook book format. I recently heard that this trilogy has been up dated. If so I would like to recieve the update in the nook format. If this is possible.

I have been having some problems with emails. So if you can’t reach
me by email try.

Jim Weddington
105 LaGrange St.
Newnan, GA 30263


Jim Weddington

105 LaGrange St.

Richard Grossinger July 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Dolores, thanks for the touching thoughts. Time does move remarkably fast, especially because it never stops, even for an instant. But it may not be linear, so those times are still alive somewhere in the universe, as you will be.

Dolores Levine Seiler July 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Dear Richard, I enjoyed reading your piece. For me it was nostalgia and sadness, not only for Grossinger’s but for my life which is also nearing its end. My father was Lazarus Levine, and my husband, Seymour Seiler, married me at the hotel in 1953. He was an architect and worked with Harry. My son, now 56, had his Bar Mitzvah celebration at Grossinger’s. My daughter learned how to ice skate and ski at the hotel. I am sorry that my grandchildren could not particpate in the “Jewish” celebrations that were so wonderful there.

Richard Grossinger May 21, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Well said. Thanks for the comments.

Carol Malloch May 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Hello Richard,
I enjoyed reading your article. I moved to the town. of Liberty NY. in the early 70’s .
I grew up on the West coast up to that point. Liberty was culture shock . For your family to build a world class resort was a testament to their abilities . Your aunt Elaine. was a respected member of the community . She was head of the school board
in Liberty . She handled out the diplomas at the high school graduations every year.
When your grandmother died, the town lined the main st of town for her procession.
Grossinger’s was the castle on the hill and the jewel of the catskill resort.industry . Your cousins Michell and Mark went on in the hotel industry to make their mark . The problem was the weak economy and decline of the whole hotel industry that ruined Grossinger’s . Your father and Aunt Elaine did what they could do to keep people employed . Despite how your parents turned out, they are still your family and you are apart of them . Grossinger’s will be always known for it’s great hospitality . It’s just a shame how she ended up. The Catskill Mountains just reached up and took back what was their’s .

Richard Grossinger May 17, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I have no knowledge at all. The property was sold almost 30 years ago and has been re-sold many times since then.

Monique DeCicco-Jones May 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I am a Family Nurse Practitioner with a few ideas on the restoration of this facility via Health Care grants. Who actually owns this property and what is their contact information? My phone number is (845)292-9114. I am a resident of Liberty and often don’t read my email because I am extremely busy pursuing a PhD in nursing so please feel free to phone.

Monique DeCicco-Jones May 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I am a Family Nurse Practitioner with a few ideas on the restoration of this facility via Health Care grants. Who actually owns this property and what is their contact information? My phone number is (845)292-9114. I am a resident of Liberty and often don’t read my email because I am extremely busy pursuing a PhD in nursing so please feel free to phone. I pass the facility everyday and have great visions for it!

Richard Grossinger May 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I am moved by your bringing back the past, and it rings true about my grandmother whom, I always felt, had a dignity and grandeur beyond her public image, and also a kindness and generosity, though she also had her own hauteur and corruptness. The generation that followed just didn’t get it, not that it would have changed anything in the end. I’m not sure that “Peter” isn’t a wrong memory. It’s more likely Michael or James, my adopted half-brothers. Also possibly Jerry or Freddie. No “Peter Grossinger” in that era.

Ron Erich May 10, 2013 at 7:35 pm

So glad and sad to come upon your story. I , and my sister, worked at Grossinger’s for two summers as a waiters, earning money for college. I think it was 1965, 1966. Jennie G. offered us the jobs when she was in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and my father was her Physical Therapist. I remember the two great fun summers there. I did hang out a little with Peter Grossinger one summer and it was always a thrill went Jennie would come into the dining room and give me a hug. It made me feel important and kept the maitre d’s off my back for a few hours, at least.
So sad to see the pictures of the property in its state of abandonment. I saw that the Concord is gone also. Here in southern California one seldom sees beautiful properties going back to nature.
Thanks for your story and bringing back memories that I had almost forgotten.

Shirley March 31, 2013 at 7:23 pm

My father worked as a waiter there during the 70s. Sometimes he would take us there and I would remember swimming, skiing, or just roaming around the hotel with my sister and friend. We loved going there and my father still talks about his wonderful years there. When the hotel was closing down my father salvaged a few things, including a painted porcelain plate I believe that was hung in the dining room. I want to return these items to the family. Let me know if you would like for me to send you a photo.

Richard Grossinger February 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Last I knew, he was teaching at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in the Somatics Program.

William McKeen February 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm


The double slit experiment prove that with observation you can improve the probability of making a certain thing happen. The negative aspect of this is if focus on the particle you lose sight of the momentum. Focus on the momentum, you lose sight of the particle. Another example, focus on the tree you lose sight of the forest. Focus on the forest you lose sight of the tree. Even better one, focus on God you lose sight of reality. Focus on reality you lose sight of God.

The extreme differential of the last example can be explored in the writings of both Schopenhauer and Swedenborg.

MN February 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Hello Richard, I used to know Ian Grand a long time ago in Berkeley. Wondering if you have any idea what’s become of him. Thanks!

Richard Grossinger November 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Great WorK!

Richard Grossinger October 4, 2012 at 9:14 am

Thanks for the nice note. I think that the warts ARE history, always. Nothing exists as an idea(l) or in a vacuum or as its mere prototype.

Wes Gray October 4, 2012 at 8:54 am

Dear Richard,

You are an extremely talented writer. A wonderful story indeed. As the internet goes, you end up stumbling upon things you never knew. I learned a great deal about a piece of American history, warts and all. Your grandmother’s legacy is secure for eternity.

ann September 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Regarding, Dark Pool of Light, Volume Two: Consciousness in Psychospiritual and Psychic … By Richard Grossinger, I would like a preview copy. I grew up with Kimmie Ross and we just today discussed Ontology, and her future with that concept. So it was quite a surprise to read your bit on her. Though a sceptic, your writing style keeps me reading….and your education…my grandfather went to Amherst and my mother went to Smith then Univ. of Michigan to join my father (a fourth generation U. of Mich grad). You seem to have fun with your life and family so that is why I am requesting the preview, which you offered.
Thanks, Ann

Barbara Sparhawk September 3, 2012 at 8:39 am

Hello Mr Grossinger. Found you googling Goddard and there were so many cross references historically between us I feel compelled to halloo.
Goddard student in ’62, classmates Charlie Ponce, Eric Saarinen, Peter Pilafian…acted in Charlie’s moody plays, there were many and he was stark drama, the only one I remember the title of is The Cistern, me posed reciting in spotlight over faux hole center stage. I attended Riverside’s Encampment for Citizenship summer prior to Goddard, Ethical Culture Society but as a child, and took Tai Chi in the ’60’s with Professor Cheng M’an Ching on West Broadway. Lived in Chinatown, Brooklyn, bits of the states and world; only female billboard painter; still write and still paint; gallery in Big Sur 3 years, now Carmel Valley.
Interesting to find you and read your history. Goddard produced activists, something that never entirely left the molecules electrified there.

Paul D. Mendelsohn August 24, 2012 at 6:44 am

Hi Richard:

I loved your piece. We must have run in parallel universes. My dad had the jewelery concession at G’s in the 50’s and early 60’s, so I spent a lot of weekends up there as a kid and have great memories. My dad was a good friend of PG’s, Jenny and Elaine and he mentioned the other day that he still runs into Elaine down in Boca. The ruins remind me of looking at the wreck of the titanic, which I also had a fascination with as a child. At G’s I had so many great memories of wandering through the lobbies, watching Jenny on “this is your life” in the lobby in 1954 (I was only 7), the ice sculptures, Lew and Simon Sez, skating with Irving, watching them break gound for the “new” indoor pool, the malts in the coffee shop, the great toboggan rides, but mostly I enjoyed watching the people. It was a great time to bond with my dad in a Camelot environment. In the late 60’s I also worked with my brother Hank in the dining room, but G’s was changing and was already not the same. I also got hazed at the one year I spent at Camp Chipinaw. But I did enjoy the horseback riding, fencing and lake area. Athough I did not like having to carry out “rocks” every time we left the lake to clean out the swimming area. I currently live in Charlotte, Vermont and would love to hear from you.

Richard Grossinger August 20, 2012 at 5:25 am

Thanks, Greg. So great to hear from you. You were my room-mate in Phi Psi at the beginning of sophomore year, a crossroads time. And you were my first stop on my flight west in 1965, the seminal summer of my life. That’s no doubt when I “performed” my orange-juice disaster. I can be very dyslexic with half a chance, and certainly back then. I am still grateful you provided that “safe house” when it counted. I’d love to hear more about your journeys. Is there a way to contact you?

John Prentiss (Greg) August 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Hi Rich. While googling “Sam Lipskin,” I stumbled on your “Best Friends” list and am glad I did. In addition to news of Sam, you shared info about other classmates like Jeff Tripp and Greg Dropkin I’d lost track of decades ago.

You remain one of the most talented, delightfully eccentric people it has been my pleasure to meet. (I still remember my father looking on in disbelief as you tried to mash a 2 1/2 inch wide can of frozen orange juice into a jar with a 2 inch top and his saying to me later, “So how come you’re telling me he’s genius? He can’t even make orange juice.”)
Take care.
Greg Prentiss, former screenwriter, bum, and Chief Deputy Prosecutor for Adams County, Washington, now living in the Ozarks with 6 cats

admin April 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Thanks, Harlan, I appreciate the comments. Probably the only thing further I’ll do on this is rewrite Out of Babylon for an ebook to come out in 2014.

Harlan Friedman April 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I loved this story. My father worked at the G during the 70’s until the parental units decided it was time to take the pilgrimage to Long island and set up shop there. I remember many fun days there. My first “print ad” was a shot they used of me on the playground for a brochure in the late 70’s. Please keep the stories and pictures coming!

admin March 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Thanks, Michael. Are you still around Bar Harbor? Lindy and I plan to be there around July 1 through at least the end of September this year.

michael flahetty March 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Hey Richard! We first met on Mt. Desert Island when we swapped a pizza for Somme of your books(great trade).Hope you and your family are well.Saw your son on t.v. and felt a strange sense of pride considering how little I know you or your family.Hope to see you in Maine!

admin February 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I really don’t remember or, more to the point, don’t think I ever knew. The number “$26,000 a day” sticks in my mind from some discussion in the mid-seventies.

Nick Pjevach February 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

couple of quick questions on Grossinger’s Resort
would you by chance remember any of the operating costs of the resort?
I would be interested to find out what some of the costs are to operate such
a large complex. (just think of the gas bill for those two boilers).
Very sad about Paul losing everything. Grossinger’s $1.8 mm loss in 1985 was
probably (or eventtually) covered by Paul personnally. That kind of loss is hard
for any one person (or family) to cover. (my father also covered losses for a
business and it ruined the last 10 years of his life-he died broke also covering
personally guaranteed debt of a business)
also enoyed your writing above

admin February 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm

It’s from the 1970s, well before PDF days. Ann Arbor Microfilms made a version in the style of the day, and I know that that’s available in Maine libraries, perhaps by interlibrary loan. Some of the material appears in my books Book of Cranberry Islands and The Provinces.

Deborah Confer February 4, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I’m a research assistant to someone writing a report for the National Park Service on the traditional histories of Otter Cove and Isle au Haut. I would be very interested in reading your dissertation, The strategy and ideology of lobster-fishing
on the back side of Mount Desert Island, Hancock County, Maine. Is it possible to get a PDF version? Thanks so much.

Geoffrey Brown January 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Moving and sad and at the same time delightful. I grew up in Liberty, enjoyed Grossingers mostly from the outside but still able to see the place from my bedroom window. Your aunt Elaine was very kind to me when I was doing some grad school research on migrant manpower in the resort industry. Thank you for writing this.

Magdalena Ball September 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Thank you so much for these detailed and richly presented recollections. I’m writing a novel (as you so beautifully put it, “for curios and mementos, for jewels and heirlooms, and for memes of the elusive and illusory American paradise”) partly set at Grossinger’s in the 1940s, when my grandmother worked as a young singer (family mythology was that Jenny chose her from a competition in Central Park and brought her out to the hotel, where she subsequently met her husband, my grandfather, and changed the course of her life). Every piece of information I can find helps me to better reconstruct the setting and also illuminate my own history. Of course I would love to travel back in time and sit in the audience to verify memory, but your notes are almost as good.

David Gitin July 24, 2011 at 9:09 am

Richard, I love your ability to articulate the ‘dilemma’ (even if that articulation, including the capture as ‘dilemma’ is itself part of the issue). Snyder’s discussion of Buddhism and the Coming Revolution decades ago gave hint of this, forerunner perhaps. Andrew’s responses closely echo the talk we heard him give the other night, but good to have them here as part of the conversation. Thanks for pointing me to your website!

jonah mark bekerman June 4, 2011 at 11:16 am

wonderful reading


elliot was going to give you a copy of breathing in the infinite

did he?

Anita Wolfenberger March 8, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. In 1964, after marrying (in Puerto Rico) to a Army man, I purchased a cookbook of Jewish cooking put out by your parents hotel. The Introduction is by your father.

I have no idea of the name of the book. The cover long ago gave way to white paper and scotch tape, the pages are missing corners and frayed all around, the book is only partly attached to what is left of it’s spine. In short it is well used.

I don’t know why I feel compelled to tell you this. I just read that the hotel is closed and am sorry to hear that. I believe I was there when I was about five or so, which would be around 1948. I have vague memories of a “talent” show of little kids.

(Mrs) Anita Wolfenberger
New Market, TN

Larry Olsen February 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Good Evening:
My brother, nearly 40 years ago, attended a technical competition that was held up at Grossinger’s in Upstate New York. The night before the competition, the hotel had a number of very talented people who put on various skits and songs, including “The Ballad of Irving” and a song about Washington at Valley Forge. One of the few lines that I remember was something about, “If Washington was Jewish, instead of Valley Forge, The Army would have wintered up at Grossinger’s with George!” Is this the same as the song you list on this site?

Paul February 12, 2011 at 12:05 am

I would add a couple of books that came out later – Henri Bortoft’s “The Wholeness of Nature” and Doris Lessing’s “Memoirs of a Survivor.” Interesting to see a bunch of Owen Barfield on your list. Such a lucid and compelling thinker and writer!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: