Elia Sinaiko

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Elia Sinaiko

I've been writing this bio for months (I thought it would take 2 days), and I have only completed about 1/3 of it. Here are some stories about me, mostly in my wandering years, age 24-30. And I include a preface of the years before to give my crazy life some context. My wandering (my dad called it that) began when I left home and fished in Alaska. Then I lived on the PX ranch commune and The Land commune. Both were the best times of my life and I wish I had stayed a bit longer. But I was a dreamer and had to go to the next sunrise. In the end I did not succeed in my dreams. Well, its not the end yet.

If you want to read only about me on the land, jump to that section. I don't yet know how to make links from the index below to each section. I see others have done it, so maybe someone will tell me how.

My best to everyone I knew and those I never met


Preface to my wandering years
My wandering years
Fishing In Alaska
The PX Ranch
= The Perfect Circle
= How Ishbel Gave Me a Name
= Rednecks Come for a Fight
= Me and Jack Take a Door Down the River
The Land
= How I won my Horse
= Little Michael Gives Me My Name
= Billy and Maria’s Goats
= Building the Communal House
= Sylvia
= Chubby
Trying and failing again
Living in Ottawa and Silk Screen Poems
Living in Provincetown
= Sylvia Again
And more stories to write
What Have I Learned?


Born Feb 24, 1945 in NYC, I have a few strong memories of my earliest years.

Age 0-6, infancy

A very early memory of bright light in my eyes.

Sitting on the kitchen counter and using words to ask for something, and being very pleased when my mother knew what I wanted.

Floating on an inner tube and thinking that I could walk under water, I jumped off. Bubbles were floating up past my eyes and my feet wouldn’t touch the ground. I was pulled out before I took a breath.

Waking up in the morning in my corner bedroom in Riverdale and being excited and happy about the new day. Everything was sparkling and full of color.

Waist high to my parents, my mother storming out and driving away. In the kitchen again, I said to my dad that momma’s gone, and he said “Don’t worry. She’ll come back.”

Spending Saturday afternoons with my grandmother in Central Park. My mother thought this was important, and she was right.

And one very important memory. In the hall of our house in Riverdale, asking my something about growing forever and she said “Oh no. We die you know.” Which I didn’t know.

I broke a lamp and I asked my father if he was going to spank me. He said no because he decided it was wrong to spank. And I thought if it is wrong to spank me now, it was wrong before

Looking out my window on our garden, frightened by my parents in loud argument behind their bedroom door. I thought that I would put myself out in the garden and I would be safe there. And then I thought I would help my parents get along because I was smart, which my mother endlessly told me. And then I forgot about this decision even though it never left me.

I describe these memories because I think they formed me, my endless thoughts of death, of right and wrong, of imminent loss, of happiness just out of reach. And the constant thoughts about ethics and the need to make people get along, to cooperate. It was only years later, well into my 30s, when I recovered these memories and knew why I felt this way. And it was in these years that I observed my life, perhaps different lives, seeming to fall into intervals of six years.

Age 6-12, elementary school

I started at Fieldston lower school in K or pre-K. There was a gang of us together from this beginning, some until our graduation 12 years later: Johnny Herman, Tom Kotlar, Owen Williams (who left early), Gillie Hatch perhaps the only one who was smaller than me, and others. I remember learning with Cuisenaire rods, being Indians in 3rd grade, Pilgrims in 6th Grade, and sitting down together for a Thanksgiving feast in the gym. Making paper, candles, carding, spinning, and weaving wool. My mother sent me to wood shop class on Saturday and I remember the teacher showing me how to handle a saw, and what happens if I continue to hammer a bent nail.

And, well, there is one important and not so pleasant memory. I was wandering around the playground alone, as I often did, looking at the jungle gym. I was trying to imagine it as made of the spaces between the bars, rather than the bars themselves. Then the ground came up and smashed me in the face, and I couldn’t move or breathe. That’s what it seemed like to me, that the ground rose up to me. Then the kids got off and ran away laughing. Many years later, in my 30s, a friend said to me that I was imagining things as other than they seemed (built of spaces) and then they became other than they seemed (the ground came up). So then and now I always look for the hidden truth of things. For me, nothing is as it seems.

I missed 4th grade (Vikings) in Fieldston when we went to Europe. I was 9 years old, in a Swiss boarding school in Chesiere-Villars Switzerland. Then I wondered how money worked. I had a bag of candy that I didn’t like. So I told the kids that if they gave me two wrappers, I would give them one piece of candy. I wanted to see if they would begin exchanging wrappers like money with each other. They thought I was crazy, “Il et fou!” I heard them say. A couple days later a tall teacher with a red face told me to pick up all the candy wrappers I had scattered over the floor. I said they were not mine, so he swung his fist and connected with my head, hard enough that I slid across the floor stopping at the wall. As I crawled around picking up wrappers, he shouted at me about the crazy thing I had been doing, trading them for candy.

I tried to run away from that school and my parents moved me to an English boarding school down the road. The English boarding school was slightly better. They didn’t beat kids. I only remember one class with a teacher who was trying to explain fractions. “Look!” he said to me, “You cut a pie into 6 pieces and each piece is one sixth!” No Cuisenaire rods here.

In 6th grade at a class dance party, Johnny Herman and other boys came to tell me that Elissa Dewitt did not want to dance with me. I learned then that I was not attractive. In high school I had a crush on Joan Baer but never could say anything to her. Years later I still felt unattractive, very shy around girls I liked, until different women taught me otherwise. But the truth is that I was socially inept, a little nerdy Jewish kid lost between his ears.

Age 12-18, highschool

Fieldston High was often fun, and definitely a good education. I would get up at 3 minutes before nine, jump into my clothes, run down stairs and bolt down a glass of OJ that my mother had on the kitchen table, jump on my bike, peddle like mad down the hill from Tibet Ave to get up enough speed to go up the hill to Fieldston, hoping that there would be no cars at the intersection I had to cross, throw my bike into the bushes and run into class. More often than not I was 2 minutes late which I usually got away with.

Later I would describe my social status in the Fieldston class as 3rd from the bottom, just above Dan Levine and Clarence Fanto (my apologies to Dan and Clarence). Of course I contributed to my situation with very juvenile behaviors. In my family we never talked about our feelings, our emotions. My father would say that dinner was a time for the family to be together, and it was our only time, not to share feelings but rather play word games like name a city whose first letter begins with the last letter of the city that was named before. So I didn’t know how to relate and my best friend was Pumper, my dalmation dog.

My mom wanted me to become an actor, so she used to send me to acting classes from an early age. Later in senior year at Fieldston we had a black woman as theater teacher, very pretty, and I got the lead in the senior play. Then my friend Henry Mandel and I left a note in a wine bottle saying that we loved her, because we really did. And we got kicked out of the play, because, said the principle to my dad, the bottle suggested that she was an alcoholic. Henry told me 20 years later that he was still hurt by it, as was I. Some things never leave our memories, I think because there is more than thought about them.

Starting when I was 13-15 my parents sent me to psychoanalysis. Twice a week I would take the subway down town to see Dr. Goldfarb. He would sit and say almost nothing while I tried to figure out what to say. One day I decided to wait until he spoke. We were both silent for the whole hour. Analysts call this the blank screen which, thinking about it now, is not appropriate for teenagers. I can’t say that he helped me. Years later he came to our house in Provincetown and asked me if I knew who he was. He had been a tall handsome man with a serious look, well I was shorter then, and now he was a little goofy man with big ears.

Age 18-24, college

I went to Antioch College in Yellow Springs Ohio and took all sorts of classes: math, chemistry, English lit, music, art, and of course theatre, but with mediocre grades. In my last two years I doubled my course load and did a lot better. I started a children’s’ theatre group with my friend Mort Potash and we did performances in an art gallery and at different schools in town. We bought an old school bus which we converted to a camper. One year we drove it to a Vietnam War protest in Washington DC, having two flat tires and a ticket for improper safety gear along the way. Another year I bought a 1952 Plymouth New Yorker for $80. It was a big solid car that got about 8 miles to the gallon, which didn’t matter much back then with gas at 25 cents or less. Later I traded it for a concertina, and traded that for a silver Benge trumpet.

In 1965 I took most of a year off to travel in Europe. I went to Israel and then to Germany to buy a BMW motorcycle, a green R50 police bike. I drove it into France and down to Nice where I visited my grandmother. A little old woman dressed all in black lace was going out as I was walking in my black leather jacket, my face and beard all black from road dust. “Disgusting!” she exclaimed. I knocked on my grandmother’s apartment door. “Oh!” she said seeing me, “I’ll run a bath!” Later she told me that a frightened neighbor came to her. “There was a man coming in and he was all dirty with a beard!” “I know.” my grandmother replied. He is my grandson.

In Paris with my bike, I slept at Lyn Esterly’s apartment. Other times I slept in hotels on the Left Bank. Once sleeping under bridge by the river Seine, two police walked by. “No sleep. No sleep!” they said. “I replied “Je parle Francais monsieur.” The told me to go midway on a bridge to a small island in the river. I could sleep there. The island was covered by a little park, so I rolled out my sleeping bag under a bush. In the morning I was wakened by the gardener kicking me. “Cochon! Cochon!” I guess the police meant that I could sleep on the border of the island outside the park fence.

I drove my bike down to Israel where I eventually sold it to another American. Then I traveled back to England and bought a Land Rover and drove it with a Swedish Girl. Rigmor Tillema, I had met to her home in Sweden. Then we drove down through Europe and to Morocco. We visited Torres de Alcala where the Moroccans grew marijuana. There were some adventures there. I smoked with the local police force. The minister of agriculture brought a little can of high quality which he gave to me afterwards. Another time I tried to play my little recorder with some musicians. They gave me a plate of cookies to stop me from playing.

I traveled in Europe and Morocco for about six months before coming back home to my parents’ apartment on Central Park West. I have many more memories of those travels.

Age 24 – 30, my wandering years

After a few months with my parents, trying work with a theater company and looking for a teaching job, my father called me a bum so I left with two shopping bags of my stuff, my parents looking sad and worried at the door.

I took the subway down to 42nd Street where I bought a small combat pack from Models Army Navy surplus store (all those stores are gone now) and hitchhiked across to Yellow Springs Ohio and Antioch. On the road two Volkswagen vans stopped for me. One was going to LA and they invited me to stay at their house until I got a teaching job there. The other would stop at Antioch in Yellow Springs, so I went with him. I often wonder what my life would be if I had made the other choice, so many times in our lives, like a split in the road to choose left or right, not knowing where each path leads. My ride took me as far as Denver where my brother was going to school. A friend of my brother showed me photos of Kodiak Alaska where I could get work on the fishing boats. So I hitched to Seattle, flew to Alaska. And hitched down to Kodiak.

Fishing In Alaska

In Kodiak I beat the docks for 10 days, asking everyone I met if they knew of a job. I did get a job on a shrimper and then on a salmon seiner. It was owned by a fat alcoholic named Wally who was always shouting at the crew which I didn’t like at all. I was to be the cook and shopped for our food. “Meat and potatoes!” he told me, “Nothing fancy. Just meat and potatoes. And don’t get any lettuce with rust on it.”

We fished for a day or two, Wally shouting and bumbling around, and pulled up at an old abandoned cannery in one of the many island bays. There was one other boat at the docks. So I walked over and asked if they needed a man. They did! They had a three man crew and their cook also ran the skiff. But he couldn’t do it, getting the net caught on rocks. So they hired me as the skiff man. I don’t remember their names, but I remember them all. The captain, the oldest at 65, was a tall elegant soft spoken man who fished for salmon in the summer and at other times guided bear hunters. The first mate, 55, was a small Irish, shock case from the Second World War when he had been a gunner on one of the battle ships. Being shot at by kamikazes must have unnerved him. The cook, 60, was a fat, slow and stupid “fish bum” who in the summer liked to “Fish salmon, earn a bunch of money, and spend it!” In the winter he would go down to California where he would “Fish tuna, earn a bunch of money, and spend it!” I suppose on whiskey and whores, but I never asked.

55, 60, 65, and I was 23! We all slept in 4 bunks in the prow (front) of the boat, two on one side and two on the other, with our feet towards the narrower prow. I was so tired after fishing for 20 hours, that I would lie down, say “goodnight” to myself, and I was out like the proverbial light. BUT, if the old guys got to sleep before me they would snore up a storm and I couldn’t sleep. So I would kick my feet out, waking them up. “Whas up?” “Wha wha?” the exclaimed, I believe not knowing what had happened. Then I would fall to sleep before they started snoring again.

We would fish for the daylight hours, which in Alaska in the summer were 16 or more. At night, sometimes woken from the middle of our sleep, we would have to “pitch fish”. The tender came at night from the cannery to collect our catch, and the first mate and I would wade around in the fish in the hold, loading them into a net basket which the tender would winch up. I usually wore gloves because you can get pricked by the salmons’ fins. But the fish were slimy and slippery, and it was hard to hold on to them with gloves on. Once I picked up a fish and kind of swung it around over my shoulder to pitch it into the basket. I hit the first mate square in the face with it. “You son of a bitch! You son of a bitch! I’ll kill ya!” he shouted with fists up. I put mine up ready to duke it out with him. “Come on then!” All the tender crew lined up along their railing were laughing at us and the captain was shouting “Shut up and pitch fish!”

Now, to understand my next story you need to know a bit about Salmon seining. When you set a net to catch salmon, the big boat pulls one end of the net out in the bay and the power skiff pulls the other end to the shore. The current bends the net into a curved “hook” shape. The top of the net is the cork line floating on the water. The bottom is the lead line. Between these two lines the net bellies out into a tunnel, net above and net below.

The salmon swim with the current up the shore line looking for the smell of their home stream. When they get to the net, they swim along its tunnel shape, out into the bay and back up current, and then before the end of the net, back towards shore. Along with the current again, along the net, and back towards shore they swim, in a circle, all the while more fish coming along the shore to join them. After a while, usually about 30 minutes, they become nervous, some heading for the center of the circle and begin to jump. This is the signal for us to “purse up” the net; draw the two ends together, pull the bottom lead line closed, and winch up the pursed net into the boat, dumping the fish into the hold.

The skiff man has to understand geometry because when you drive the skiff pulling one end of the net to the shore, sometimes the bottom lead line, gets caught on rocks, so you need to imagine this in your mind and circle back in the right direction to unhook the net, and then take a slightly different route to the shore. And sometimes when you circle back you get another bit of the lead line caught on another rock, so you have to unhook this before you can unhook the first snag, driving the skiff in loops left and right. Well, I was very good at this, having a visual, almost geometric imagination.

Now the Captain, to be kind to the cook, kept him in the skiff with me. For the next 3 weeks he would sit in the front of the skiff all grumpy and annoyed, not saying much except to go this or that way to unhook a snag, which was always wrong, and getting angrier when I ignored his advice. One day we were under tow, pulling the net at an angle from the side of the skiff. And the net pulled at the boat leaning it towards the water. The 3 foot waves made this very precarious, with only an inch or two of gunnel, the top edge of the skiff, above the water line, all the while the cook slouching up front and scowling with his arms crossed, on the low side of the boat! These skiffs with their big 8 cylinder engines were heavier than water. A young fisherman had been drowned some weeks before when his skiff flipped over on top of him and took him down to the bottom with it.

I had to get to the net, the low side, to pull something or other, which would add my weight to the problem. “Get to the other side of the boat!” I shouted. “Ahh, you college punk, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” the cooked shouted back with a dismissive wave of his hand. So I jumped to the other side, but my foot slipped and caught my boot between the revolving drive shaft and a beam, and a stud on the shaft ground away at my ankle until I thought to turn the engine off. I had a 1 ½ inch open wound on my ankle which bandaged twice a day to keep it clean. But it didn’t heal because it was always wet. So after 3 more weeks I got off the boat and got a lift back to Kodiak. In 6 weeks fishing I had earned $1200 and today I still have a scar on my ankle.

The PX Ranch

I left Kodiak with $1200 in my pocket and hitched down the Alcan Highway, 800 hundred miles of gravel and dirt road. Just before the end there is a hot spring to soak. Then, coming from the rough gravel to asphalt, the car purrs along as if we entered heaven.

Somewhere in Prince George British Columbia, in a phone booth just off the highway, I called a friend I knew from Antioch. She was living on a farm on Quadra Island near Vancouver, but it was not a good time for me to visit. Climbing up the grass hill to the highway I realized that I had no where to go, no direction, no purpose, nothing. Well, I thought I was about as far north as I could go, so I would head south. As I reached the road and looked up, there was a black car pulled up in front of me. A friendly face leaned out from the driver’s seat and asked “Where are you going man?” I was going south which was too bad he said because he was going north. But first he was going to the dog pound to get a dog. “Want to come along?” So we went to the dog pound and each got a dog. Before I began to hitch south again he told me about a place that I could go, “Gordy’s place above Ashcroft.” Now I had a bit of direction.

In Ashcroft, asking at a gas station, I got directions and my ride took me up the mountain. We couldn’t find the place, so we went back down to the gas station. Another ride took me up further, till we saw some lights in a log cabin below the road. I knocked and was invited in. A woman was making an art deco painting by kerosene lamp light. I asked hesitantly if I could stay the night and she said “Sure!” Some days later Gordy asked me “So are you thinking of staying with us?” “I thought I might.” “Far out!” That was it. I was home.

The Perfect Circle

One night I was sleeping in the main house, a log cabin with two rooms, and Jack came in wearing his girlfriend’s dress. “Get up!” he said, “Swallow this and come with me.” I’d never taken LSD, but this was different he said. So I did and went with him out to the cabin in the meadow. Everyone was there and he went to get me because “We can’t leave anyone out.” John, cats eyes and long hair, and Jeff in purple sunglasses and hair all teased out into an afro (but he is white :-), were sitting on the floor playing their guitars. Looking at them I said “Magicians.” Donnie was sitting on the wood stove, smiling and waving a peace sign to me. Joyce, Jack’s girlfriend, in her long underwear was sitting on the bed.

I played my little recorder with the guitarists and a cup of something was passed around. Ishbel burst into the cabin with a big smile “Its morning outside!” We all went out to the birch trees in the middle of the meadow, and put arms around each other in a circle. Purple alfalfa flowers and sounds of chattering birch trees, rushing wind and stream. “Let’s gravitate towards the purple.” I said, which they did not understand and laughed and we all rotated around till we were sitting down. There were 12 of us. “Let’s take an astrological check.” Gordy said. And we had one person for each sign of the zodiac (well that is what I remembered for years until recently Gordy told me we were missing one. So we had 11 out of 12.). On the mountain above us there were three rock-faces, and on the center rock was a perfect circle about 100’ across, carved by nature. We were a perfect circle, sitting in a circle under a circle on the mountain. How can I explain this emotion?

How Ishbel Gave Me a Name

A few weeks later we were driving in one of the vans, I forget where. Ishbel and Peter were giggling in the back of the van. “I know!” she said, “Marshmallow, Captain Marshmallow.” I had been telling people what to do, get wood cut for the winter, etc. which is, I guessed, why she gave me the name. Like a captain but soft and silly inside. The tag stuck. Everywhere I went friends from the PX introduced me as Captain Marshmallow, and to this day call me Marsh or Marshy. Another time, I had been slicking my hair down with VO5, Ishbel came up to me and mussed up my hair. “Its so fizzy.” she said with a big smile. I went back to the cabin and threw away the VO5.

Rednecks Come for a Fight

One night rednecks came to our ranch to have a fight with us. They banged on my cabin first. I told them to go away and one of them, holding a six pack of bear, got threatening. So John said “They want to share theirs with us. Let’s share ours with them.” Meaning we would give them LSD. I said OK that they could come in but they had to take off their shoes, which was a parental request. I reasoned that if they obeyed me I would like a parent to them and have some control. They did, except one who stayed by the door with his shoes on. He was holding a bike chain.

We played some music for them. Then the big redneck, he was sitting on the bunk, said “Where do you take a piss around here.” John and I looked at each other and smiled. “We use the piss hole.” I had been afraid that winter come, it might be too cold to go outside to piss, so I cut a hole in the back door and covered it with a leather flap. But it was too awkward to use, pressing your self up against the door and all. But the big one gave it a try and everyone laughed.

They thanked us and said that they would come back another time, and left. Then we heard shouting. They had made a beeline for the main house and started all over again. I walked outside saying to myself “You are a samurai.” The big one was choking one of our group, his name was Strider, who had come out swinging a shovel. I remember walking up to the big one and reaching up to tap him on the shoulder. “You don’t want to do that.” I said. “Yeah. But he attacked us!” “But we’re your friends.” I replied. He let Strider go and John and I walked with the rednecks up to the front gate and saw them off. Others from the main house were staring out the door wide eyed and frightened. “Marshmallow has power!” they had said, not knowing that we had met these men before.

Me and Jack Take a Door Down the River

A year or two later, in my wanderings around BC, I visited Jack and Joyce and others who had moved to a small commune they called Sundance, by the Frazier River above Lillooet. Never able to sit still, I convinced Jack to make a raft with me which we would float down the Frazer to town, buy some cookies, and walk home. So Jack and I nailed a door to two logs and hung our lunch from a branch. Lindy brought us a truck tire inner tube that some children had been playing with. “You better take this as a life raft.” He said. We shoved off, but the raft was unstable, so we had to hang on with our legs in the water. We passed the cable ferry smiling and waving, while everyone stared at us.

Now the Frazer is a lazy little river, but down stream, just before Lillooet, it is joined by the raging Thompson. We quickly found ourselves clinging to the raft in the middle of this quarter mile wide fast moving river. And we didn’t know it, but a few miles further was a part of the river called Hells Gate! Jack, who was so cold he couldn’t swim, said “Marshmallow, I want you to know that I love you!” “Shut up Jack!’ I said. “We’re not going to die!” We shouted for help to a fat Indian fishing on the bank with two boys. He threw his rod down and ran, two miles to the ranger station we were later told, telling them “There are two boys on a board in the river!” Down stream there was a bend in the river where I reasoned that the current would push towards shore. I told Jack to hook one arm around the inner tube and I would hook an arm around the other side, and we would scissor kick “like hell” across the current.

I was cheering us on. “Kick! Kick! We’re almost there!” We got to the bank and Jack started to climb the gravel hillside to the railroad tracks above. My legs went all paralyzed and the inner tube started to float back out into the river. “Jack! Jack!” I shouted. “What! What!” he shouted back, scrambling up the hill. Then my legs sank low enough to touch the bottom which was only two feet deep. We climbed up to the top and lay down on the hot railroad ties to warm up. A helicopter roared down the river and we waved at it. A few minutes later it came back and landed next to us. “Were you on the river?” the rangers asked. Yes, it was us, so we got a helicopter ride to town, assured the rangers that we would never do this again, bought some cookies, and walked home.

I stayed at the PX Ranch on and off for the next two years, wandering around the continent, back to Alaska to fish, getting Canadian landed immigrant status. Most of my friends from the first group had left the PX Ranch and were living in Vancouver, Ottawa, or other places. The PX ranch was now very ‘fluid’ with people coming and going, many for only a few days. The spirit and the magic, had departed. So I was again looking for a home.

The Land

During my years of wandering, I think it was 1973, I was visiting my cousin Eileen in Palo Alto. There I also spent time at the Joan Baez Peace Center, and went on a retreat with them up to an 800 acre ranch up Skyline Road above Palo Alto. Hippies were living in little houses they built on back lands of The Land, the name they gave to this little anarchy. So I built a small hexagon house out of wood and 4ml plastic, planning to write. One night I was sleeping on the platform I had finished, and a raccoon squeezed my toe. I raised my head and saw it standing at the end of my sleeping bag, hissing at me. Three babies were rummaging around. I fed them melon rinds and then threw water at them to make them go away.

A couple, living in a teepee up the road, also had experiences with this raccoon tribe. They woke up one night with the mother hissing at them from the side of their bed while the babies tried to roll a honey dew melon out the door. One day these two friends invited me to go with them to the Reed Horse Auction in Hayward. So I grabbed the $80 that I had and went with them. It seems like I always had $80 J

How I won my Horse

Before the horse auction started, we wandered around the stables and, thinking that I knew little about horses so I should try to look stupider than I was, I asked everyone “How many hands is this horse?” I offered one horse dealer my $80 but he said he could sell her for horse meat for more than that. So we started to refer to him as “horse meat”. I don’t know if he heard us. The auction started and tack, bridals and saddles and such, were auctioned before the horses. Cheap stuff for too high prices I am sure.

Now you should know that a Reed’s horse auction was a working man’s event. There was a ring, well it was square, with a concrete wall around it about two feet high, on top of which was another three feet of iron pipe railing. The auctioneer was in a raised platform at one side, bleachers on the other three sides being filled with ranchers, cowboys, and horse dealers. We were sitting about two rows up, opposite the auctioneer and I was bidding $80 on every horse. The horse dealers, not wanting other dealers to see what they paid, had secret signals they gave the auctioneer. You need to know this, but we didn’t. So we began to shout out that there was no bid and the auctioneer just did not want us to get the horse for cheap. I’m sure that we thoroughly annoyed him.

I was bidding $80 on every horse, until they brought out one on a halter that had not been broken. For reasons I do not know, I was inspired to shout out “If I can stay on that horse for 10 seconds will you let me keep her?” The very annoyed auctioneer shouted back “Buddy, if you can stay on this horse for 10 seconds, she’s yours.” He must have thought I would be taught a very hard lesson. I vaulted into the ring. The tall young cowboy holding the halter said to me “Do you know what you are doing? This is dangerous!” I dismissed his concern and took the halter. All the cowboys in the bleachers were laughing.

I reasoned that if I could get up onto her neck I could hang on. But her back was at the height of my chin, and I could not jump that high. I pulled down on her halter thinking I would get her used to my weight, which shows how stupid I was about horses. She raised her head up and spun around with me hanging on. I remember looking up into her big brown eyes as I skipped along. I think these acrobatics stopped most of the laughter. Then I had my second inspiration of the evening. I took her over to the wall, and stepped up onto it. She shied away a bit, and I thought it was now or never. So I leaped out onto her shoulders, wrapped my legs around the bottom of her neck, my arms around the top, tucked my head, and hung on.

She went all stiff and shivery, bucked around the ring a couple times, and then with shudder, lowered her head to the ground. Now imagine her nose to the ground and I wrapped around her neck with my butt up above and my head down near hers. I counted to 10 just to be sure, and then slid down her neck and stepped off. As I stood up, all the cowboys were cheering “It’s his horse! It’s his horse!” What a rush!

When I returned to Reed’s the next day to claim my horse, the auctioneer said to me “Boy, you did a damn fool thing! Do you know that they can kick their neck with their rear hooves?!” I didn’t know :-) A cowboy loaned me his horse trailer and another the ball for the hitch. “I know you’ll bring it back.” he said. I had proved myself. I was worthy of respect!

For the next few weeks I chased that horse around the land every time she got away. Eventually I figured out how to control her. A visiting cowboy told me to get a book “Breaking and Training the Stock Horse.” By O. Williamson. “You follow every step in this book” he said “and you’ll be riding your horse.” He was right. Whenever I skipped a step all hell broke loose. I named her Gently as a reminder to me. A friend on the land gave me a teepee, another some teepee poles. I moved into it and built a small lunging ring and a stall for my horse. Each day I would lunge her, tie her on a 150’ rope to a steel stake in the ground, and lie in the sun for a while. In 6 weeks I was riding my horse.

Little Michael Gives Me My Name

One day I was talking with Little Michael about my name. Michael was about 3 ½ feet tall and used crutches to walk with. He was known to have a temper and, I found out later, was suspected of setting some houses belonging to people he was angry with, on fire. He had been seen coming out of one of these about 15 minutes before it burnt down. Anyway, I was telling Michael that I had to change my name again. Captain Marshmallow was too ridiculous, especially if I wanted to apply for a job. I didn’t like my birth names, Richard (Dick) or Alexander. My Bar Mitzva name was Eliahu, which I liked but was too complicated to say. “I know.” he said “Elia. Call yourself Elia.” And that was my name from then on.

Billy and Maria’s Goats

To be written …

Building the Communal House

In the afternoons I would work on a communal house that I was building. I had reasoned that our commune would be more cohesive if we had a shared house to meet in. I spent the next four months building it in the back lands, down the dirt road, in place of the old small cook shack. Little Michael didn’t want me to tear that down, so I tried to leave it for some weeks, but in the end it was in the way. So it was torn down which he didn’t like at all.

A few people helped, most did not. A few young men newly arrived asked if they helped build it, could they live in it until they built their own house, which seemed very reasonable to me. We scavenged lumber from Palo Alto, and truckloads from a military academy that was to be torn down. I remember a lot of shiplap paneling and telling everyone to leave one in four joists so the buildings would not collapse. A policeman drove up to ask what we were doing. I explained and he took me to the headmaster’s house in town to get permission. With a wink and a nod the headmaster’s wife said that it would be a shame to let all that lumber go to waste.

The house was 15’ x 30’ with a raised center platform 15’ x 15’, a 3 seat high sauna in the back corner that would heat the house in the winter, and a 300 gallon redwood hot tub that I had built with six trapezoidal sides. The center section of the roof was transparent 4ml plastic sheeting. There were screens on the windows, a breakfast nook and a balcony. Everyone had a meeting in it, and was very impressed. They began to make rules about it. No one could live in it they decided. The young men who had helped came to me to complain. “Don’t worry.” I told them, “They have nothing to do with it.” They had not helped to build it so they couldn’t make rules about it.

A week later, in my teepee, I heard shouts of “Fire! Fire!” Up at the top of the hill I could see a small bit of flame, but as I came over the rise I saw the house engulfed, flames 200 feet high. Balls of burning plastic were soaring into the air. In desperation, people were throwing cups of water on it. I just stood there. Someone gave me a hug. I remember thinking, as it burnt to the ground, that they could not have deserved to have it. Later people suspected that Little Michael, who was now angry at me, had torched it. Perhaps. And perhaps it was the sauna that was used before it was properly fireproofed.


I met Sylvia in a health food store in Palo Alto. I was taking care of a little girl named Zemzem. Sylvia was working behind the counter and Zemmy wanted something to drink. So I boosted her up on my shoulders so she could ask for what she wanted, and of course do the talking for me. Well, I was still very awkward and shy about introducing myself. There was a very sweet exchange between Zemmy and Sylvia.

The next day I came back to the store hoping to meet Sylvia again. But she wasn’t working then. As I walked around the aisles I came upon her kneeling by a shelf and said only “Hi.” She was going to have her lunch and invited me to share. So we sat at a small round table and I struggled to know what to say. Then she said “I think I’m in love with you.” and my heart soared. And then she said “I want you to meet my husband.” and my heart fell. Up and down in a breath. It was often like that with her.

I visited her, and yes I met David, her husband. And she visited me on the land. She moved to a cabin on the land and we got to know each other. At the time I didn’t know that her husband was a womanizer and would disappear for days at a time. She told me later that she had been praying for a gentle teacher to come into her life. Over our long history together she has often thought of me that way, calling to ask for advice on one problem or another. On The Land I helped her to build a small house, like my first one, on a tongue of land in the stream below. We called it her island.

One morning David came into my teepee when I was still in my sleeping bag, slapped me, and challenged me to fight. I asked him to let me get dressed first. Standing outside I told him “David, I’ll fight you but first I want to tell you that I am sorry that I hurt you.” That seemed to confuse him and he said he didn’t have to fight me because he had “read the Vedas”. He left without fighting. But I reasoned that he might come back, probably at night. So I moved my sleeping bag to another side of the teepee. Coming from the outside he would not be able to see anything in the nighttime darkness of the teepee and would probably go to where I had been before.

Sure enough, a few nights later I heard the swoosh of the teepee flap. I could see David enter, go to where I had been before, and leaning down try to see me. “Hello?” he said. “Hello there!” I replied deepening my voice. Unnerved, he left again without fighting. But this was getting a bit difficult for me and became one of the reasons I left the land.


The Land was owned by a wealthy man who wanted to develop it. But the town of Palo Alto would not zone it for development. So he allowed us hippies to live on it, perhaps expecting that this would put pressure on the town. He also had a rancher running cattle on the land, most of which were across the road where we did not live and where there was a barn and large pastures. The rancher had a horse named Chubby. One day some visitors asked one of us if they could ride the horse across the road. When they were done, I suppose trying to be responsible, they tied Chubby in one of the stalls in the barn and nobody knew he was there.

Chubby was tied up for 10 days until the rancher found him. He had died of starvation. One of us, I forget his name, said “I saw that horse in the barn. He didn’t look very good.” I got angry and called him an idiot for not doing anything about it, to which he said it was not his responsibility. I tell this story because I think it shows the heart of the problem that communes faced. Without responsibility bad things will happen, and without structure, people will fail to be responsible.

Before I left The Land, I told people that a disaster would happen and they would be closed down. They all poo pooed the idea. I heard that about a year later a child drowned in the pond and the town of Palo Alto decided they had had enough. After some legal wrangling, everyone was forced to leave The Land and it was turned into a state park. I have been back several times, the last this past winter holidays where I had a picnic with Sylvia, my son, and my wife on the spot where I had lived in my teepee.

Trying and failing again

I left The Land with my teepee and horse. Billy and Maria who lived across the stream and had goats drove me up in their pickup truck with the horse in a stall we built in the back bed buying some land, rebuilding a 1954 Cab-Forward Willies Jeep.

I tried to live again in British Columbia. I did some substitute teaching in the public school systems in Vancouver and bought a very remote 164 acres, and rebuilt a 1954 Willies Cab-Forward Jeep, gave away the jeep, gave away my teepee, sold the land, and moved to Ottawa.

Living in Ottawa and Silk Screen Poems

In Ottawa I did substitute teaching and set up a studio to do silk screen posters of poems that I had written. There is a little story here too:

I sold my poems on silk screened posters in shops in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. Later my friend John from the PX, visiting a relative in Kingston, saw my poem on an abstract painting with the legend “Found on a poster in Montreal. Writer unknown.” That, I thought, was success!

Living in Provincetown

After all my roaming I found that I was very tired of chasing dreams. I went to live winters in my parent’s vacation house in Provincetown at the end of Cape Cod. In the summers, when my parents were there, I would travel. I was desperately looking for something I wanted to do and which I had the resources to do it with. I would write and keep journals of my thoughts which were mostly philosophic and very structured, like this:

I volunteered at a drop-in-center as a counselor and medical assistant. I attended intensive courses with the National Training Labs (NTL) founded by Kurt Lewin, and courses in other institutions. I went to several conferences, one Borderline Personality disorder in NYC. Through all this several people told me that I had to go back to school. A friend said that I would never be taken seriously until I got my PhD. But I had only taken one intro psychology course in college and I needed to take the psychology graduate record exam. So I studied for the GRE’s intensively for six weeks, took the test, and scored in the 99th percentile. Well, it just all seemed logical to me.

Sylvia Again

Living in Provincetown, I had heard that Sylvia had moved to Boston. My brother was driving to Boston to look for discarded bricks at demolition sites. So I went with him, thinking that I might run into her. We drove along the Boston South Shore when down the road I saw a van coming towards us that looked like Sylvia’s van. As it got close I could see that it was Sylvia! But because my brother is stubborn and generally does not do what I ask without an argument, I couldn’t think of what to say. If I said “Stop!” he would way “Why?!” and argue about how he had things to do. So my tongue was paralyzed.

Just as Sylvia’s van was passing us my brother said “There’s some bricks.” And made a U-turn to the other side of the road. I thought Sylvia would drive by, but she also made a U-turn to go the health food store on the block. In fact the two cars made a U-turn around each other!! I got out and walked towards her. We were both smiling. She said that she was trying to work things out with David, so I never visited her in Boston. Later, when I was studying at NYU, she had finally left David and visited me. We saw each other on and off for years after. But I am still haunted by the vision of our two cars circling around each other by sheer coincidence. It seems like fate! Later I told her that she and I were like twins stars revolving around each other.

And more stories to write

Well, I have a lot more stories of these years, and the second half of my life to follow, but I’ve been working on this bio for weeks. So I’ll have to post it now, for those of you who are interested to read them before the reunion, and add more stories later. Here is my outline of most of what remains to be written:

1969 – 1975 Hippy wanderings

A voice warning of an auto accident.
Playing my flute on the SF beach and almost getting mugged for it.
Frank brings LSD and a battery powered phonograph with “The Moody Blues, In
Search of the Lost Chord.” To the PX to “save” me. He believed, like Christ, that he was a fisher of men but using LSD.
Visiting Frank the patriarch’s little commune, a six mile walk along wilderness
plateaus in British Columbia
I gave everything away, money, flute, in BC. Years later I got my flute back.
Pouring concrete at Paolo Solari’s Arcosanti
Sycamore Canyon, playing long tones with my flute on the plateau and seeing
four charging horsemen, banners flying, in the clouds.
Theft of everything, I return to Antioch and then visit my cousin in Palo Alto
Meet Sylvia in Palo Alto. Her affection begins my feeling that I am attractive.
Ottawa CA, silk screen printing
Gladstone Island Peace Research group
First gathering of the tribes in Montana. Bake 50 loaves of bread on an oven I
Built, with help, out of rocks to feed one slice to each of the 2000 hippies.

1975 – 1978 Retreat to Provincetown

Provincetown winters trying to choose a future
Live in Ptown winters, travel in summers
Went to 20th Gathering of the Tribes 20 years later. Not the same
Start Karate
Thought I might like to run therapeutic wilderness groups which I never did.
Later I went on two month long wilderness trips in the Wind River
mountains in Wyoming.
NTL and other group therapy training. In the end about 2000 hours
Cram for the GRE’s. Get high scores
Theft of my flute and briefcase with my writing. Stops my writing for years.
Get flute back. I guess I am supposed to have it.

1978 – 1983 Back to School

NYU PhD when I learn to be more normal
Nice apartment on 13th street a short walk from NYU
Start Hawkenshire, move to Social Psych, Phil Shaver takes me.
Graduate both schools
Go to Morocco again and visit Imilshile with two Morrocan friends I had met
Do it without Marijuana this time and meet a lot of people
Moroccans very hospitable
My father dies after a long decline with Alzheimer’s disease
PhD in Psychology, dissertation: Question order effects in social judgments
Which no one will ever read

1983 – 2002 Work in the mainstream

NYU School of Medicine when I keep trying until I burn out.
1983 Married Diane, lived at 192 6th Ave for 20 years
She wants to stay in NYC, so
I get referral from my stat teacher Jack Cohen
To Alzheimer’s Research group
Small apartment, didn’t like it but made it work
At work I don’t say no for two years, trying to learn to get along.
Work is not important, only social relationships are important
Fish tank in office. Sit and watch fish to calm down
Dysfunctional program, data on paper towels
Upgraded program to data books and network
10 years and 10 million dollars
Barry Reisberg and negative time.
Barry sitting on the floor of my office and waving his arms in the air.
1987 separated from Diane, divorced 2 years later
My factor analysis of psychometric data for prediction
But rejected by higher faculty until they do it 10 years later.
Went back to NYU to learn calculus and matrix algebra
Did two wilderness trips
Built most of my house in Ptown during these years
Become member of Beachcombers’ Club
Artists and other old pissants. A retro contrarian anarchy.
Began to visit India and study Buddhism
Ladakh in 1990
Ladakh and Dharamsala in 1995
Dharamsala in 1998 and 1999
In Geshe’s corner monastery room, I was ecstatic.
Teaching at the Tibetan Astrological and Medical College
1998 Western Material Science Methods and
1999 Western Psychology and Psychiatry
Round the world in 2000, speak to Chinese middle school
Prepared a voting simulation for small class
Prioritize 6 things food, peace, music, love,
Surprised by all students, TV cameras
I raise my hands and shout “Hello”. They all respond J
I do simulation and take questions
Translation gives me time to think, meditative
I realize that I think with a slow rhythm
1998 My mother dies of suicide
Karate Black Belt in Go Ju Ru after 20 years, longer than anyone in history
2000 married Sofia, stop work for 5 months
2001 Nicolas Alexander Little Bear born, I leave work for 5 months
The next year I leave work for 4 months, connected by computer modems
before the internet.
2002 I resign, go to Provincetown with Nicolas to allow Sofia full time study
in NYC for medical licensing exams, 2.5 years, 99, 99, 97
Help Sofia with applications, licenses, all paperwork, and relations
with colleagues

2002 – 2013 Back to Provincetown

Provincetown full time alone with Nicolas
Begin to write again
Developing a style that considers every word and logic of structure
Nicolas in Ptown preschool. Nicolas in Rudel’s preschool
Nicolas in Truro Central School with IEP
Renting Mom’s house by the week
Sofia is now cardiothoracic anesthesiologist at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.
Will take a road trip with Nicolas this summer in a 24’ RV

What Have I Learned?

In the end, my life makes little sense to me. I can only say that through my life I have searched for love and truth. I have found some truth, but love has been more elusive. So what have I learned?

Names should be given.

Some, but not enough, about women. Like if you don’t take a woman the second that she offers herself to you, she will feel rejected and you may never get another chance.

That intellect can exceed the capacity for emotion to absorb it, so we sometimes act out what we do not understand.

When I can find myself to be part of all things, then I might not fear death. Feeling a part of nature, which I have felt in moments, is a good way to achieve this understanding. And you really can hear the pattern of spaces between the bird sounds.

The purpose of life must be for personal development which is not only for our selves, and to find a balance between all extremes, that some never search for.

Uniquely human, we live (are really alive) both in a physical and in a symbolic world. Like the two sides of a penny that Frank described in a different metaphor, the inside and the outside. They both exist together with a non-dimensional boundary between them.

Three poorly understood instincts that increase the likelihood of survival and so drive much of human social behavior:
To form a group with boundaries determining who is inside and who is outside.
To establish a hierarchy in the group.
To establish rules of distribution of resources in the hierarchy.

Love is a paradox of selfless selfness, which I have only begun to learn.

And, most important, honesty, through all its variations, is very difficult to achieve.

Elia Sinaiko