Born in Brooklyn, I never liked school very much (did anyone?), but I did spend a lot of time at the library. My dream job was to have my own library with all the information in the world, people would call me up, ask me a question, and I’d find it for them. I actually thought up Google when I was 10.
There’s not much memorable about my childhood. As a hobby, I collected and baseball cards. I memorized the card number, the player’s photo on the front and his stats on the back. I’m sure that’s the reason my vision got worse and worse and my glasses thicker and thicker. Needless to say, I didn’t go out much…
As a teenager, I delivered the daily paper door-to-door, 7 days, for 2 1/2 years. The hardest part was collecting the subscriber fees every week. A 14 year-old tracking down deadbeat customers; it seems absurd nowadays. Kids don’t even deliver newspapers anymore. I babysat and shoveled snow. Crawled into small spaces to lay out insulation, whatever anyone was willing to pay me to do.
This money was mostly spent on more baseball cards, which eventually turned out to be more than a hobby – trading and dealing at conventions, placing ads, trading and selling through the mail. Years later, those cards would finance a car, lots of books and my first few European trips.
Being away at college was a burst of freedom and, predictably, I enjoyed myself to no end. I tried a bit of everything, intra- and extracurricular, all over the grid and hung out with the locals. I made up for the girls and the parties I missed in high school. At the end of the second year, we had to choose a major, and really I didn’t know what to study, so I added up the credits and had the most in English Literature/Rhetoric. Against all expectations, some of this has proven useful at times.
A poster about international exchange programs caught my attention and I applied immediately to the Polytechnic of North London. Then came September and I was sitting in an English classroom, surrounded by English students, which was terrifying for about an hour and a half. Everyone was friendly, I got a job in the canteen, bought an old bike and rode around on the left side of the road. I saw a lot of pub theater, had some great friends and got around a lot. At one point I hitchhiked up to Liverpool and did the Beatle tour. Oh those days, when I was always on the move…
When that fantasy came to an end, I had a decision to make for the next one. It was winter, so better to wait a few months before starting the 2-month Eurail ticket. Why not spend the winter immersed in a new culture, a new language, meeting people. Holland was the cheapest country at the time, and for the next 10 weeks I was the new kid in the quaint medieval town of Deventer, close to the middle of the Netherlands.
As per the drill, I got a bike, volunteered in the student club, carried a dictionary everywhere, met a lot of people. When Spring came I validated the train pass and the rest is history. The travel journals linger at the bottom of my bookcase with memories, poems, notes and a few locks of hair.
I flew home for college graduation. The holiday was over. I went back to my old job, delivering oxygen to hospice patients. Thanks to my familiarity with the City, bedside manner and willingness to drive around with heavy, flammable liquids, I made decent money and got to spend time with the elderly, bantering with old, dying people. Anyway, I couldn’t wait to get back to Europe. I sold some more baseball cards and booked a flight!
Making friendships in Europe wasn’t easy but it was so rewarding that I decided to stay a while. The Netherlands was the most liberal and least expensive country at the time, so I enrolled at the University of Amsterdam and took a room in a student/refugee housing project. There was a community tea house and I got a job behind the counter. The customers were residents of the dorms: foreign students, refugees from the darkest corners of the earth and middle-aged Dutch fringe characters. There were tensions between the ethnic groups and I often had to intervene. The immersion was exhilarating. A few of the Moroccans and a Somalian or two wanted to kill me.
It was not my intention to stay in Amsterdam for the next 10 years, but I was in no hurry to leave. I was extremely assimilated, albeit an illegal alien. I had some interesting and some horrible jobs. The most fun were tending bar in the red light district and, later, at Sauna Fenomeen.
My yoga teacher mentioned a teaching job at the Amsterdam Academy he’d heard about. I was no teacher but needed a job. So, I got an interview, the dean asked me in Dutch what I knew about the stock market, I started rambling about something I learned from my roommate at college, and he offered me the job on the spot.
The first day, I got a thrill explaining and discussing things with a room full of students. Teaching became a hobby in itself; I developed an experimental, if not reckless, reputation. The Dutch “eigengereid” has no English equivalent. But, as my results and evaluations were high, they kept extending my contract, and I soon became the utility-man for everything from Poetry to Tourism to Adult Ed.
At some point I’d reached a disturbing level of comfort and felt the urge to explore new territory. I left Holland with more than I came with and moved my stuff to Prague, a place I’d been enchanted with for years.
In 2002, Lonny Gold invited me to teach with him in subtropical Hainan, China for a 2-month course, which became four months. I fell in love with the island, ate mangoes off the tree and immersed myself in a completely weird culture.
Back in Prague, a friend was examining my book collection. Among them are some classics on communication. He yelled at me “Tyvole you learned that schtick from books?” Next thing I know, his boss to hired me to give a course to his colleagues at Fiat. Suddenly I was a corporate trainer.
Since then I’ve developed materials and trained firms in practically every sector. It is a privilege training real pros in their livelihoods, and seeing immediate results.
Now I’m teaching Clinical Empathy to medical students and planning to take that to the doctors, finishing off a unique book, and doing the usual training, coaching, mediation and brainstorming sessions.
Send me a message here, or email howard’sfirstname@howard’slastname.com and we can solve any communication issue acutely or preventatively.