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 11.
There’s not much memorable about my childhood. As a hobby, I collected baseball cards. I memorized the card number, the photo on the front and the stats on the back. I know it’s those bloody baseball cards that ruined my vision. Obviously, I didn’t go out much.
As a teenager, I delivered the daily newspaper door-to-door, for 2 1/2 years. We had to collect the subscriber fees every week. A 14 year-old tracking down deadbeat customers seems absurd nowadays (newspapers are delivered now by adults in vans). I babysat, shoveled snow, painted houses, crawled into small spaces with rolls of 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 – dealing at conventions, placing ads, trading and selling through the mail. Years later, those cards would finance a car, lots of books and a couple of trips to Europe.
Being away at college was a burst of freedom like I’d never known before. I tried a bit of everything, intra- and extracurricular, all over the grid, on campus and off, soon making up for the girls and I parties missed in high school. I eventually chose English Literature/Rhetoric as a major, for no other reason than I’d earned more of those credits than in the other subjects I was dabbling in. Against all expectations, some of that study has proven useful at times.
An advert about international exchange programs caught my attention and I applied for a semester in London. The next thing I know, I was sitting in an English classroom, surrounded by British students, which was terrifying for about half a day. Everyone was friendly; I got a job in the canteen, bought an old bike and rode around on the left side of the street. I saw a lot of pub theater, made some great friends and got around a lot. I frequented the clubs and experienced the onset of the “acid-house” and “rave” cultures. At one point I hitchhiked up to Liverpool, just because I could. Oh those days, when I was always on the move…
When that fantasy came to an end around New Year’s, I had a decision to make. I had a 2-month Eurail ticket, but it was January. Why not spend the winter immersed in a completely new culture, learn a new language? Holland was a cheap country at the time, and so for the next 10 weeks I was the new kid in the quaint medieval town of Deventer, in the middle of the country.
As per the drill, I got a bike, volunteered in the student club, carried a dictionary around, and met a lot of people. When spring came, I stamped my train pass, and the rest is history. Travel journals linger at the bottom of my bookcase with memories, poems, notes and a few locks of girls’ hair.
The holiday was over. I flew home for college graduation, went back to my old job, delivering liquid oxygen to dying patients. Thanks to my familiarity with the City, bedside manner and willingness to drive around with heavy, flammable liquids, I made a decent wage and got to spend time bantering with the elderly. They were always so happy to see me. Hey, I had their oxygen. Anyway, I couldn’t wait to get back to Europe. I sold some more cards and booked a flight and bought another Eurail ticket. I think I have a thing for planes and trains.
Making friendships in Europe wasn’t easy, but it was so rewarding that I decided to stay a while, 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 jobs. The most fun were tending bar in the red light district and, later, my unforgettable tenure as board member 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. At the interview, the dean asked me (in Dutch) what I knew about the stock market, so I started rambling, 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 my hobby itself; I developed an experimental, if not reckless, “eigengereid” reputation. But, as my results 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 quit Holland while I was ahead, and explore new territory. I up 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 4 months. I fell in love with the island, ate mangoes off the tree and immersed myself in a completely weird culture. I’ve been back there three times since, and have developed quite a love-hate relationship with the Middle Kingdom.
Back in Prague, a friend was examining my book collection, which include shelves and shelves of self-help classics. He yelled, “Bastard, you learned that magic of yours from books?” A few days later, his boss to hired me to teach 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. Among these jobs is my pet project, teaching Clinical Empathy to medical students (and planning to take that to doctors).
Currently finishing off my first book, and, to pay the bills, 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.