At 80-years-old, you’ve done and seen quite a lot, but you didn’t exactly have an auspicious beginning. You couldn’t even graduate from high school. What happened?
I was expelled! I wasn’t much of a student anyway. I signed up for welding class and woodworking class, so I didn’t have to do any work, but in welding class, the instructor was a friggin drill sergeant from the Korean War! This son of a bitch was always ordering me around, “Do this,” “Do that.” If he didn’t like what I was doing, he’d say, “You, get on the floor, do twenty pushups!”
Right in class?
There weren’t desks or anything, but yeah. I had to get this asshole, so after school, I went back to the shop. There was no one in there, except me, so I welded a bunch of tools onto the welding table! My parents got a call. He knew immediately it was me.
So now what?
I joined the navy, on my 17th birthday. I wanted to see the world. My parents had to sign for me. We were living in Bellevue, Washington. Back then, it only had about 10,000 people. So I flew to San Diego. I had never been on an airplane.
When you enlisted, you had to take a bunch of tests. They had to see what your aptitude was, whether you were a dishwasher, or swab the deck, or being an electrician or machinist. I took these tests and scored very high on them, so it made me eligible for a lot of technical programs. I went to submarine school for about three months, had psychological training there. You had to go through a 100-foot-tall escape tank, to simulate an escape from a submarine. None of that stuff bothered me. I graduated easily.
So where did you go?
My first submarine was a diesel submarine. It had completed patrols in the Pacific in World War II, successfully. It had sunk some Japanese ships, that kind of shit. It had about 70 enlisted men, and 10 officers.
On a submarine, everything was pretty loose. You can have long hair, you don’t need to shave, you don’t need to shine your shoes or any of that shit.
It was pretty cool. This was amazing stuff, I thought. Nobody was at war, 1957, so I had joined an adventure program.
They sent us to Pearl Harbor, but it was only to refuel and add supplies. Not much fresh vegetables. Lots of frozen stuff, frozen meats. The vegetables, they stacked them in the showers, so we wouldn’t be able to use the showers for a few weeks.
I got into a little trouble in Hawaii, because we were only there for a couple days. They only let us out for one night, to get drunk, chase women.
I climbed onto the roof of this nightclub place that had an open-air dance floor. I took these coconuts off this tree, and I was throwing them down onto the dance floor. Just crazy shit.
They didn’t really do anything to me. They just said, “OK, don’t do that shit any more.”
Were you drunk?
I might have been. I hardly drank anything, to speak of. When I was 16 or 15, I may have had a beer that whole time. I smoked, but I didn’t drink.
This was amazing, Linh, for an 18-year-old kid, to experience this, traveling across the Pacific. We ended up having to go through a hurricane on the surface. We were taking 45-degree pitch, and 65-degree rolls, and my job was helmsman, trying to steer this thing.
Cruising at night on the surface, my job was to look out at night, it was very peaceful.
In Hawaii, I bought ten cartons of cigarettes. I smoked Lucky Strike. They were a dollar a carton! I got paid \$75 a month. Plus, we got another \$30 hazardous duty pay, for being on a submarine. I really didn’t understand why. I didn’t see any hazard.
Seventy days later, we pulled into Yokosuka, Japan. Seventy days.
In Hawaii, we had seven or eight civilians come onboard, which was very unusual. Who are these guys? It ended up they were CIA. Our mission was to spy on a Russian naval base, right off the Russian naval base, submerged, and tap into their undersea cables, to monitor all their communication.
We were laying on the bottom, dead quiet, no engine running. No fans running, just dead quiet, hiding, and listening. There was a Russian destroyer that came out. You could hear their active sonar, looking for us. Apparently, they had an alarm that we were there, or some indication that we were right there.
We were just sitting on the bottom, in about 200 feet of water, not very deep. They started dropping depth charges. You know what those are? They’re big canisters they rolled off the destroyer, to try to kill submarines.
There’s your hazard pay!
Yeah, but we survived. So we were pinned down, and the air was getting low. The air was getting very screwed up. On the bunks, back in the crew’s quarters, we had carbon monoxide absorbent powder. The problem was we couldn’t turn on the air valves. There was no noise allowed. It was a little bit tense.
I remember going into the control room. That’s where they had the periscope and all that shit. I went up to the officer, and I said, “Hey lieutenant, you don’t mind if I smoke a cigarette?”
You couldn’t breathe and you wanted to smoke a cigarette?!
I figured I might as well have one more, if I was going to die soon. The officer said, “No, no , no, go ahead,” so I took out my Zippo and my Lucky, but the lighter wouldn’t light! He just laughed at me. There wasn’t enough oxygen to light the lighter.
So we weren’t caught by the Russians. We escaped, finally. They gave up after a while. Going deeper, we slowly crept out of there.
Eventually, we got back to Yokosuka, where the submarine was put onto a dry dock to be repaired. The hull of the submarine was damaged from the depth charges. It caved in from the compression of the explosions underwater.
It took six weeks to repair the submarine, so we had six weeks of rock and rolling! Can you imagine an 18-year-old kid, going into… Women everywhere, bars, 18-years old! Woo! Rock and roll!
Here’s a funny one. Halfway through, the chief of the boat, Jenkins, said we’re going to have a ship’s party. He said, “Everything in there is paid for! Everything.” Anyway, the ship’s party was in a brothel! It was at a fuckin’ brothel, with free pussy for everybody!
Jenkins was like a father to the other enlisted men. Besides organizing group activities for the crew, he also lent money to you if you were broke, and you paid him back on payday.
Did any man refuse to go to the party?
Oh no, no, no, we all went. What do you mean?
There might have been guys who were super religious, who didn’t think it was right.
No, no, no. They’re submarine sailors. What do you think?
It’s interesting, we had black guys on there too. Two or three black guys. At the time, black guys could join the navy, but they could only be stewards to the officers. You know, servants. Same with the Filipinos. They could join the navy, but they couldn’t be an electrician, torpedo man or anything. They had to work as stewards, as servants for the officers. It was pure racist crap.
It’s interesting, Linh, but where I grew up, during my entire existence, up to that point, I don’t think I had seen a black person, in person. Maybe on TV, you know. Like most things, I didn’t give it any thought.
One of the black guys became my best friend. We’d go get some women together, and stuff like that, and drinks.
He ended up with a girlfriend, after about two weeks there. I found a girl that I semi fell in love with, at 18. I stayed at her place most nights, that I could.
Then we went to Hong Kong. As a young, 18-year-old kid, and knowing very little, it was really amazing, the shit I went through, and discovered.
I got a little mouse tattooed on my shoulder. It was midnight or 1 O’clock, and we were just wandering around, half drunk, and we stumbled onto this this tattoo shop. There was a woman in there getting a tattoo on her thigh. She was a British Army woman, and pretty neat looking. She was sitting there with her legs spread, getting a tattoo on the inside of her thigh, so we said, “Woo, got to see what’s going here!” The guy said, “You’re not supposed to come in unless you’re getting a tattoo,” so I said, “Sign me up!”
He charged me five Hong Kong dollars, which at the time was worth 17 cents.
So how long were you in the navy?
Ten years! I signed up again. It was the very beginning of the navy nuclear powered submarine program, so I applied for it. I had to take the equivalent of a two-year university engineering test, and I was accepted. For some reasons, I have this ability to pass tests, even when I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Near the end, though, I got very disenchanted. I couldn’t wait to get out. I was growing up. On our submarine, the nuclear missiles were programmed to hit different Russian cities, I found out. They were ready to kill millions of people.
I had been in the navy for 8 ½ years. Most of my other friends had gotten married. They had a pretty good deal, I thought, a wife making food for them and all that shit. They lived in a house, while I lived in a barrack.
So what did you do after the navy?
In 1965, I bought a brand-new Jaguar XKE. I had started road racing. In 1966, I married Betty. She was going to the University of Connecticut, majoring in English. Betty worked at the racetrack, as a volunteer. I met her there.
The next year, I got out of the navy and bought a one-bedroom house. I applied to the University of Connecticut, so we were both students, and I was making this \$85 a month house payment.
I was a self-taught car mechanic, so I got a job at this foreign car repair shop.
What were you studying?
I wanted to study… My intention was… I wanted to get a degree in philosophy.
The thing about me, Linh, I have never, ever had any desire to be rich, or to make a lot of money. My intention in life, from a very early age, was to have the lowest stress life I could figure out for myself. As long as I had a roof over my head, as long as I had enough food to eat, I don’t really care what kind of clothes, or anything like that.
They wouldn’t let me into the liberal arts department, though, because I didn’t have a foreign language, but there was a way around it. I could take philosophy classes while enrolled in the business school, so I did that.
The idea of a college degree, in my view, was just to learn about the world around us, what’s going on, what it’s all about. It’s just a quest for knowledge, and not for the purpose to make money. It’s to obtain knowledge, you know.
In the navy… I had never read books in my life, but in the navy, because I was at sea for so long, I started reading books. I read historical novels, non-fiction books, because on a nuclear submarine, they had an extensive library. I just spent all my spare time reading.
As a student, I had such a desire to learn, to just absorb everything. I was in a maximum kind of mode. I wanted to know everything, what’s going on, so I could function, you know, and that continued my whole life. I’d travel to a place to find out what was there.
So how long did your marriage to Betty last?
Wow! So you were married to her for a long time.
Yeah. I mean, I never disliked her. I liked her, but I wasn’t really in love with her, you know. There’s a difference.
Why did you marry her if you didn’t feel that strongly about her?
It was a thing to do at the time. All your friends are getting married…
I guess she fell in love with you, huh?
I don’t know. She had the same view of me as I did of her. We’re friends. I won’t hurt you, or anything like that.
We never had kids. Betty made it clear she didn’t want any.
On the other hand, I want more now. I’ve matured to the point where, you know, I want somebody to love.
Betty became mentally ill. She was manic depressive, in an extreme way, so I took her, I did some research, to the Yale University Hospital. They were supposed to have this advanced treatment for severe manic depressives. They kept her there for a week, put her on this lithium hydroxide treatment.
It’s supposed to balance her brain, but once you’re on this lithium program, you’re on it for life, basically. You can never get off, because it replaces the missing chemical in your brain.
Anyway, that was her deal. What I noticed, particularly, was how her personality changed, on this lithium. She wasn’t mean or anything, but just distant all the time. So it just accelerated the demise of our relationship.
So I got divorced in 1979. I gave her everything. I gave her the house. I mean, it wasn’t much, but I didn’t want to do anything that damaged her, or anything like that. I wanted her to survive.
Was Betty upset when you got divorced?
It was very weird. Not upset, not too much. I came back to see her a few times, to make sure she was alright. She eventually met some guy, married him. I was in touch with Betty until, probably, eight or nine years ago? Ten years ago?
That’s pretty good. That’s unusual.
I did care about her. I cared about her well being, you know, if she was going to be alright. It’s just, I wanted a woman to fall in love with. It’s hard to come by.
So let’s talk about your second marriage.
In 1979, I left for Charlotte. I had five thousand dollars to my name, and my race car.
I had friends down there, whom I had met through racing. A guy hired me to maintain his two race cars, and to act as his crew chief during races, and for that, he paid me \$1,500 a month, so I was OK.
I went to Atlanta to see an old navy friend, and he said, “I just got a contract to search for the Atocha. It’s a Spanish galleon that sank in 1733, with lots of gold. You want to come with me?” I said, “Sign me up! Let’s go!”
I wasn’t actually paid, only fed, with the promise of a small percentage of whatever we could find. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I spent about seven months doing that. At the end, I had a hundred dollars to my name.
Finally, I got tired of it, so I went back to Charlotte, and that’s where I met my second wife, Gail.
There, I got a job from a friend, got paid. I went to a bar and met this woman, and we ended up going to bed, that night. Her name was Gail, and she was the assistant buyer at Sears, in Charlotte. She was 25-years-old. I was 40.
We had a relationship. One day, I said, “Gail, will you marry me?”
She just laughed at me. She said, “I’m not going to marry somebody who’s just kinda wandering around, who’s semi-homeless!” She said, “If you get a normal job, I’ll marry you.”
That was the last thing I ever wanted to do in my life, but she talked me into it. There was an ad in the Charlotte newspaper, for a roofing company. They were looking for an account executive, to represent the company in the entire Southeast. The compensation was more than I ever made, company car, expense account, all that shit.
How the hell can I get this job? So I made up a resume. Obviously, I can’t tell the truth.
I did, in fact, have a degree from the University of Connecticut. I graduated with honor, in business, right? I had, in fact, started small businesses. One, I imported leather furniture from Brazil. When I got tired of that, I opened a foreign auto part store, selling parts for Jaguar, MG, Austin-Healey and stuff like that.
I was also racing during this time. In 1975, I bought a Lotus Super 7. It was basically a race car. Because of my engineering background, and knowledge I had picked up in the navy, I could heavily modify a car to make it run a lot faster, so in 1976, I started winning races.
Jack, Jack, let’s get back to you applying for this job!
I’m sorry, I got way off track!
OK, so you embellished your resume, but you did have business experiences.
Yeah, in a way, but I didn’t do it seriously. My passion was racing cars, and making enough money to do that.
OK, the new wife. 1983, we got married, and I had this job with this roofing company. It was kinda fun, because I didn’t do hardly anything. I had a very new company car, they paid my expenses and I could travel anywhere I wanted. I really didn’t care about the job, yet I had a natural ability to do it anyway.
After I worked there for about one year, their competitor approached me. I said, “What’s the deal?” They offered it to me. I said OK, but I wanted to take the Northeast. After I did that for about five months, their national sales manager, he either died or something, but somehow, I was appointed the national sales manager of this company!
We had moved to Connecticut. Gail had become the divisional vice president at this department store. Then we moved to Cleveland, Birmingham, then back to Connecticut, because Gail kept getting hustled, I mean recruited, by all these companies.
So we were living in Greenwich, Connecticut, and you know what that’s all about, right? It’s like Palm Beach and Beverly Hills. It’s where all the hedge fund managers live, from New York. The Wall Street scammers.
It’s 2001. By then, I was so sick of Gail, but I hadn’t left, because in 1988, we had a daughter. By the way, I quit my job in 1990 to take care of my new daughter, my baby girl, and I started another business, a shipping business in Cleveland, and I started importing race cars from England.
In Connecticut, Gail got recruited by this high-powered Australian company, to be their CEO. They flew us down there, first class, then they wined and dined us. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we moved to Brisbane.
For myself, I was doing real estate, buying and fixing houses, but in 1995, you could trade stocks, equities and commodities on the internet, so I taught myself how to do that, to make money. By 1995, I could do it anywhere. It didn’t matter where I was. I could make money.
Gail was bringing in money like there’s no tomorrow. Just to give you an idea, she had a car allowance of a hundred thousand dollars a year, and she was on a list of either a hundred or 50 most powerful women in the world!
The downside is, she’s a complete fuckin’ psychopath, but most people are, to get into powerful positions, alright? She was a complete fuckin’ psychopath, man, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with her. She was such bad news. The only reason I stayed that long was because of my daughter. I had to take care of her. I didn’t feel I could leave.
My second daughter, Lena, is adopted. At a carwash in Pittsburgh, I saw a flyer that said, “INTERESTED IN ADOPTING A POLISH BABY?” It was just a hand-written note. When I got home, I called up that number, and it was a woman a couple towns over. It was a Polish woman, and she was single handedly trying to get as many Polish children out of these orphanages as possible. Her goal, more or less, was to save all these children.
It’s not that easy. Because of nationalism, the Polish government only wants Polish families to adopt these children, not foreigners. Poland only releases children from these horrible orphanages that are in terrible conditions. They only release a child if there’s something drastically wrong with them. Don’t go in there expecting a healthy child. It’s pretty crazy, and there are so many of them.
With Lena, both of her eyes were pointing to the middle, and she was way stunted in growth. She was chronically ill, with several things wrong with her. I didn’t know what all they were. To see her, it’s her eyes and her size. Right now, she’s 25-years-old, and she’s 4-foot-10, you know? Her eyes are OK now, got her eyes fixed.
The way the system works, you have to spend six weeks over there, to get to know the child. I picked Lena myself. I stayed in Szczecin. The orphanage was about 10 kilometers away, in Stargard. I’d see Lena and spend the day with her. At first, I couldn’t leave the orphanage. I’d go into the big room, where all the children were running like mice. There were 20 or 30 of them. I’d see Lena, pick her up and carry her, and all the other children would put their hands up. Please take me too! It tears your heart apart.
After six weeks, there’s a trial. They actually call it a trial. You go into a court room, with a jury, which are peers, from the community there, and you have to present your case of why you want to adopt this child.
Even after we were allowed to adopt Lena, we had to wait three more months, so I had to come back to Poland. I took the train from Warsaw to Szczecin. I was really touched when I came to pick her up. You’d think she wouldn’t remember. Lena was only a year and a half. She was in a crib there. Lena looked up and said, “Tata! Tata!”
So I got her out of the orphanage. I put her in my coat, it was December. We went to the airport. It was an open-air airport. There were no tourists or anything. There was a commercial prop plane that was supposed to show up and take us to Warsaw. We were there for about twelve hours, waiting for this prop plane, and it was December! Anyway, I had little Lena inside my coat. It was zipped up. She was like a papoose!
So you did this alone? Your wife was not there with you?
No, Gail was there. She had to be there, for the trial. They had to question both parents, you see.
It’s interesting that Gail went along with the adoption. She couldn’t have been too bad. She didn’t object to it.
She viewed it as some kind of prestige, it’s hard to explain. A psychopath like that, they just do weird shit. Normal people would never do some of the things she was doing. I saw how she reacted. She had a sister, right? Her older sister died at 56-years-old, of cancer, a horrible death of cancer. Gail never went to visit her sister, before she died. It wasn’t that complicated. She never bothered. It’s crazy.
When her mother was dying, she didn’t go see her either. She didn’t die suddenly, she was in the hospital. Gail never bothered to go.
Shortly after I met her, her father had a sudden heart attack and died, so I went to the funeral. I wasn’t married to her yet, but I went with her. There wasn’t a tear in her eyes.
So you got a divorce from Gail, and it was particularly nasty…
She tried to destroy me financially, but I got away. She withdrew a substantial amount from my bank account, which was a felony, but I didn’t press charges. I just wanted to get the hell away from her.
I found out, for sure, that the divorce was final during a 14-hour flight back to the US. The plane had a phone that cost like \$10 a minute. I called this woman lawyer of mine, “Did you get the result yet?” “Yeah,” she said, “you’re free.” So I got a scotch whiskey after that, sat down and smiled.
Now, your wandering years really began.
Even before I got divorced, I went to Fiji, with this girlfriend from Australia, to this really remote island. The only power there was this one generator, in the middle of the island. Every night before dinner, they’d sit and drink this, ah, narcotic kind of drink.
I went to Bangkok, and places like that. Then I moved back to the US, near Seattle. Then I took two or three trips to the Ukraine, to Kiev. I had a girlfriend in Kiev I kept for quite a while. We went to Turkey together.
It was fun, I enjoyed doing it, but I knew it didn’t have a future, in terms of love.
Then I shifted to South America. I spent some time in Costa Rica. It’s kind of like Bangkok, San Jose, Costa Rica, so I lost interest. Then I got onto this Colombia kick, you know, so I went to Bogota. I was there for quite a while.
Finally, I met this woman. She kinda made sense. She seemed smart and pretty educated. I was trying to feel out if this was somebody I could fall in love with. Finally, the answer was no, so I decided to move on.
I knew it wasn’t the right one. I didn’t have too many years left to get this process moving. Then I went to Barranquilla, on the Caribbean side of Colombia. I spent a long time there. I went to Cartagena, Santa Marta, but I was based in Baranquilla. Then I met a really, really super nice woman there.
She was a beautician. She was genuine, I think. She wasn’t a gold digger. I’m very good at figuring that out. I understand what’s going on, and it has gotten me out of trouble.
This lasted probably six, seven, eight months, which was long for me. I kept testing the idea if this was going to work, if this was the right one, if this was going to be my wife.
I was actually, seriously looking for a woman who would fall in love with me, and I would fall in love with her, deeply and completely, for the rest of our lives, together, and actually, you know, it worked! When I met Olga in Latvia.
Part of it is the Russian traits. Different people have different traits. You can see it run through their culture. You have a few Russians that aren’t so good, but you have a bunch that are very good.
Russian women, they’re extremely loyal. Once they’ve committed to you, they mean it. Olga would fight to the death for me. She would, physically, and I’m not exaggerating.
She loves me without reservation, without this, without that. I’m the same for her. I’m so fortunate, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. It’s like night and day for me, those other marriages.
It’s very difficult to find, but with Olga, love happens like flipping a switch.
When I met her in Latvia, we went to dinner that night. We talked about things. She’s an English teacher as a second language. I talked about a recent book I was reading, and she said, “Oh, I just finished reading that same book!” It wasn’t that common. It was by Marquez.
One Hundred Years of Solitude. She’s read most of his books. Love in the Time of Cholera… We started to talk about books, and things like that, and about family.
How old were you then, and how old was Olga?
I was 66, and she was 42.
At first, we’d spend six months in Latvia, and six months in the US, in Florida. We had a house in Marathon, in the Florida Keys.
In 2010, I was getting bored, and I’m a nomad anyway, so I said to Olga, “Let’s take a ride down to Portugal!” We spent the summer there. We almost bought a house, but didn’t, and the reason is: Portugal is a beautiful country, and the people are wonderful, but there’s no culture to speak of, and the restaurants are kinda primitive. It’s a country where the people haven’t changed in a hundred years.
In 2011, we spent four months in France, looking to buy a house, but we didn’t buy one until next year, in Brantôme. A beautiful village, it’s called the Venice of the Périgord.
In 2013, we sold that house, and moved to Spain, in the mountains east of Malaga. However, in 2014, the whole side of the fuckin’ mountain was on fire! We watched the fire almost encircle our house, right behind it, below it, so I thought, Oh, this house is toast. No insurance. When we went back the next day, the house was fine! Right after that, I decided to sell the house, and get the hell out of there.
Luckily… I’m always lucky, Linh. I should have been killed years ago.
There are two reasons why we’re in Europe now, permanently. Olga terribly missed her daughter, and her grandson, and I just thought she should be close to them.
The second reason was my lack of faith in the US financial system. The American economy is going to collapse.
That Lehman collapse in 2008 should have blown up the whole fuckin’ system, but this time, it’s going to, for sure, and maybe even during this summer.
It always amazes me that the country is still functioning, sort of, half-assed, today. There’s no way in hell it should be. It’s insane! Yesterday, they announced the monthly consumer index number, which is the measure of inflation in the US, supposedly, which it really isn’t, because they changed the way they do that, about 15 years ago. They used to include things like food and energy, but now, they don’t consider important how much food costs, or gasoline, or heating oil.
I just went through their bullshit list. All their data are phony. They lie about everything, the unemployment report, number of jobs, payrolls. It’s all lies. The GDP number, they lie about that, every single time.
Now, we’re in a village of 900 people, not far from Toulouse. Until this Covid bullshit, everything was fine, but the French are like scared little mice, afraid of their own shadows, cowering in the corner. They really believe in this Covid bullshit!
We have a very close French friend, a woman who’s about 60-years-old. She was broadly criticizing her French woman friends. The reason being, her mother died, which broke her up, she was very depressed, yet all her close friends wouldn’t come over to help her, to grieve with her. They were afraid of Covid!
Give me a fuckin’ break, you know. It’s sick.
I like to assign an adjective to each country, so for England, it’s arrogant. Germany is smartest. Italy is craziest. Spain is close to Italy. I’d say it’s the most irrational. Nothing makes sense in Spain. Poland is dumb as a doorknob. For France, it’s a work in progress, because I’m learning more about them every day, but I guess I’d say timid.
As for Russia, that’s a work in progress too, but the Russians are also extremely smart, in general. I give you an example: these artificial intelligence engineers who work in the Silicon Valley? A huge percentage of them are Russian, but they’re considered in Russia as traitors, for going to work for the Americans.
Everybody in Russia looks at America as a bad joke. They just laugh at them. They’re not afraid of the US attacking them, or anything else. If it does, it will get its ass kicked.
You told me that after reading my articles about Albania, you started to check housing prices in Tirana!
But I’m really too old to move again…
But you might have to, if France gets really crazy!
That’s true. As an ethnic Russian, Olga can move to Russia and become a Russian citizen. As her husband, I’m also welcome there, but it’s way too cold. We’d have to live in the Crimea, maybe.