Sandra Stewart Holyoak: This begins an interview in Trenton, New Jersey on February 18, 2010 with Michael Perlin, and Sandra Stewart Holyoak. Thank you for welcoming me to come into your home today. Could you tell me, for the record, Mr. Perlin, where and when you were born?
Michael Perlin: I'm very happy to have you. I was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey at Perth Amboy General Hospital on March 30, 1946.
SH: To begin, let's talk a bit about your parents and their backgrounds, your family history maybe is the better term. Let us begin with your father, and his name ...
MP: My dad's name was Jacob Walter Perlin. He graduated Rutgers in 1934. He was born in 1909, passed away in 1981. He went to Rutgers. He also grew up in Perth Amboy. He was born in New York, and he went to Rutgers on, what he used to call, the eight year plan. He went a year, his family had no money at all, he went a year, then dropped out for a year to earn enough money to go back for the next year, and he did that four times. He should have been in the Class of '30; he was in the Class of '34. He commuted from Perth Amboy to Rutgers in New Brunswick by hitchhiking because he could not afford the bus fare, and I could never complain about any jobs [I had]. When he used to tell me about some of the jobs he had; my two favorites being, this was during the Depression, obviously, going door-to-door selling Campbell's soup, and, my absolute favorite, painting the white line down the center of Route 1, which is good. [laughter] I don't know if you ever saw that Seinfeld episode where [Cosmo] Kramer decides to make the highways wider; that's kind of resonated with me. [Editor's note: Seinfeld is an American sitcom set in Manhattan, New York that originally aired on NBC from 1990 to 1998. Cosmo Kramer, played by the actor Michael Richards, is the neighbor of the main character, Jerry Seinfeld.] He graduated in '34, and he ...
SH: What did he major in?
MP: He majored in journalism. ... Actually, he started a masters in English at NYU [New York University], and he never finished it, but, I remember him telling me these great stories about Thomas Wolfe, not Tom Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe, being his English teacher, and just being mesmerized by this guy. [Editor's Note: Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) is one of the great American novelists of the twentieth century, whose works include Look Homeward, Angel (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929).] He was a stringer; he taught ... as a substitute in Perth Amboy High School for a year, then got a job as a stringer for The New York Times, and then, went to work for the Perth Amboy Evening News, and he worked for the Evening News from about 1935, or so, until 1960, going from reporter, to police reporter, to city editor, to managing editor. He left the newspaper in 1960, '61, and in 1962 he and my mom [moved]. Actually they, this is a great story, they dropped me off at college in September of '62, and I didn't "get away from home"-- home got away from me, and they drove on to Arlington, Virginia. My dad had a new job working as a speech writer for the Federal Highway Commissioner, and he worked for the Department of Transportation, it was then in the Department of Commerce, it then became its own department after awhile, from '62 until, I think, about '73. He developed Parkinson's disease just after I was married in 1970, and it was very difficult after that. He worked for a couple more years, and in 1978 they moved back; he and my mom moved back to Perth Amboy, and he lived there from '78 to '81 when he passed away. My mom grew up in South Amboy, New Jersey. This is another story from the Depression. She was offered a scholarship at what was then Newark State, which I guess is Kean College now, and had to turn it down because it didn't include train fare, and she couldn't afford the train fare, so, she worked in her parents' small store, and then, she was the general secretary for the Perth Amboy YMHA [Young Men's Hebrew Association] for about, like, fifteen years, or so.
SH: What was her name?
MP: Her name was Sophie, maiden name Rosenthal, and through the wonders of Facebook ... I had dinner in December with a couple of women, whom I last had seen when they were seventeen-year-old girls in my high school class, one of whom is an amateur genealogist, and I'm now in possession of my grandparents' wedding certificates, and my grandfather's bill of lading when they came over from the old country, which is more than I knew about her side of the family, ever. It was just remarkable. [Editor's Note: Facebook is a social networking website that is privately owned and run by Facebook, Inc.]
SH: Where was your family from?
MP: My father's family was from Lithuania. His father's father was from Vilnius. His father's mother, which is a part of the family; his mother's maiden name was Goldsmith, and there's a lot of, actually a lot of Rutgers Goldsmiths. ... That's the part, the twenty-five percent of my family I know far and away the most about are from a small town called Séta in Lithuania, which I visited in 2005, which was just an amazing experience. My mom's family, it's always been kind of like, "up for grabs" as to where her mother was from, and my friend, Joan, is trying to help me figure it out. The town was Pedolya Gubernya, and it was one of these places that kept changing borders. We think it was probably Byelorussia rather than, and possibly Ukraine, but, then, you just could not tell. Her father was also from Lithuania, so it's all from, Eastern European Jewish tradition from there.
SH: Was there several members of that generation that immigrated to this country?
MP: Which generation?
SH: Your grandparents.
MP: My grandparents, yes. On my father's side, this is actually very interesting, on my father's side, his grandfather came over and actually was certainly alive until, probably the '20s or the '30s, and all of his uncles on his mother's side came over. ... All right, so, almost my father's entire family on his mother's side was here. I knew nothing at all until December about the whereabouts of his father's extended family. My father's father died in 1922, when he [my father] was thirteen, as part of the flu pandemic on the Lower East Side, and I knew he [my grandfather] must have had some siblings, because I knew my father had first cousins that I knew a couple of, but, we never knew anything about them. Again, through my friend, I found out much more about that family, and I found out, to my utter astonishment, that my father's paternal grandfather had come over as well. I never knew anything about him at all, and the irony for me is that his name, in the old country, was Alkanon, and when he came to the US he changed his name to Alex. Our son's name is Alex.
SH: Oh, my.
MP: Alex is named, in the Jewish tradition, after my father and my wife's grandmother, his Hebrew names, but, we had no idea there were ever any other Alex Perlins on that side until last month, so, go figure. [laughter] My mother's family, unfortunately, I know nothing about at all. Her parents came over with one aunt, her mother's sister, and that was it, and her father's name was changed at Ellis Island, or on the way over. It's a very common story, and [we] never had any contact with any of her other relatives who may have come over, but, I'm hoping through the information my friend gave me, if I can somehow track down some of the other relatives, I would like to do that very much.
SH: It's an exciting time when all this information starts pouring in.
MP: Yes, right.
SH: How did your parents meet?
MP: ... My dad was a newspaper man at the Perth Amboy Evening News. My mom was the secretary, the general secretary of the Perth Amboy YMHA. They were cattycorner from each other on Madison Avenue and Jefferson Street in Perth Amboy. There was very little hot water in the tenement where my father lived, so, he used to come to the Perth Amboy YMHA to take hot showers in the gym, and that's how they met, and they dated for eight years before they got married.
SH: Oh, really?
MP: They started, they met in 1931, got married in 1939.
SH: Did your mother and father keep a kosher home?
MP: They did. They, my father's mother lived downstairs in the same building we lived in, in 236 First Street in Perth Amboy, and, so that she would be comfortable in the house, is I think really the reason my mother did that, but, they always kept a kosher home.
SH: Did that tradition pass down to you?
MP: We don't, we do not keep a kosher home. I mean, we're certainly, we've been members of a conservative synagogue all our life, our kids went to a Hebrew day school through fifth and sixth grade. I take being Jewish very seriously ... for a whole lot of reasons. ... To a great extent, I attribute my politics to the tikkun olam tradition "to repair the world" but we ...
SH: You were bar mitvahed.
MP: I was bar mitvahed, oh, yes, absolutely.
SH: Did you go to Hebrew school?
MP: I went to Hebrew school. I went to an Orthodox Hebrew school five days a week, and [it] always interfered with my baseball playing, and, no, I did, I did do that.
SH: As a young man growing up during grade school, and all of that, what were some of your favorite activities, or favorite memories?
MP: Sure, I was very happy in school until I got to high school. I did not like high school at all. It was ferociously anti-Semitic, and I can, if this was on tape, on videotape rather, [for] the videotape, I would roll my sleeve up, and show you a stab wound, which is here. I'm going to kind of go back a little bit and ...
MP: You asked about my activities and things. I always used to love to play ball, and that was always sort of my favorite thing to do. I read voraciously. I've been a voracious reader since I was, probably, four years old. My favorite birthday party of all time; I was nine years old, and my mom coordinated with all of my friends that they would each bring me a different Hardy Boys book, the Hardy Boys mystery series, and oh, my God, was that great. I had maybe a dozen friends, who remembers how many, but, I had all of these Hardy [books], and she knew which ones I had, of course, so, I had all these, and there was no duplication. That was the greatest moment. [laughter] That was terrific. I've always been very, very involved in all sorts of music. I play the clarinet, although I'm currently not in any band or orchestra because my work travel schedule makes that impossible. For most of my adult life, I was, I am a Bob Dylan fanatic, and if you look at any of my, if you look at my CV [curriculum vitae], you'll see how many of my law review articles, the titles begin with quotes from Dylan songs. I'm a huge jazz fan. My wife and I went to see the Monterey Jazz Festival [on Tour] last night in Princeton, saw, Kenny Barron [Trio], Regina Carter, Russell Malone, and Kurt Elling. It was a terrific concert. I'm a huge opera fan, and every night at seven o'clock, if I'm home, we listen to Bill McGlaughlin on WWFM [The Classical Network] "Exploring Music." I have classical music on, most of the time. iPod is the world's greatest invention. [Editor's Note: The iPod is a portable digital music player designed by Apple Inc., originally launched in 2001.] ... Also, on the train, I commute to New York, I don't have to listen to people's cell phone yammerings, or in the morning, baroque, medieval, renaissance music until I hit the tunnel, north of Secaucus. Then, it's Dylan, [Bruce] Springsteen and the [E Street] Band, and then, coming home, usually either broader classical music, [Jean] Sebelius, [Anton] Bruckner, [Gustav] Mahler, or jazz, and that's how, and that's what I do, and at the office all day, I will generally have on The Tallis Scholars, [William] Byrd, that kind of music, on the Pandora station. [Editor's Note: Pandora radio is a personalized internet radio service that plays music based on an individual's genre preferences. The Tallis Scholars sing Renaissance sacred music, such as works written by composer William Byrd (1539/40-1623).] So ... I was really, I was a very, very happy kid. I was promoted. I graduated high school and college early. I graduated high school at sixteen, college at twenty. Halfway through third grade, they put me in fourth grade, and that was a mistake, and I don't think my parents kind of got the notion of "social readiness" as opposed to "intellectual readiness". In fact, the principal wanted to put me ahead another grade, and at least they had the good sense to say, "No," but, I was happy.
SH: You were an only child.
MP: I was. I'm an only child. High school, not so [happy]; I went to Perth Amboy High School, and I had some, certainly had some very good experiences, and again, through the wonders of Facebook, I am reconnecting with a lot of friends from there, and it's been a joy, including people I really haven't thought of in over forty years, but, ... I suffered physically a lot. I was physically beaten many times, and it was all clearly, overtly, anti-Semitic. There's no question about that at all, and that's left both physical scars and some, I guess some emotional scars, and it's kind of interesting as to how I've chosen my life's work, and whether there's a relationship to that. I would expect Doctor [Sigmund] Freud would have something to say about that.
SH: Describe the makeup of the communities in Perth Amboy. Was it diverse?
MP: It was very diverse. I mean, it was probably, there were forty thousand people, or so, in Perth Amboy, and we can certainly check that out; it was probably about ten percent Jewish. It was predominately Eastern European Catholic, Polish, Ukrainian, like that. There were Italian and Irish Catholics. Very small percentage of Perth Amboy, then, was African American or Latino. Probably out of my [class], four hundred kids in my high school class, if there were twelve or fifteen non-Caucasian students, that would have been a lot, maybe twenty at the outside, but, I grew up in the Number One school area, and our school was, actually, a diverse school. There were even, everyone laughs, no one ever saw a Protestant in Perth [Amboy], a white Protestant in Perth Amboy. There weren't many, but, they were in our school, and as I said ... our neighborhood was a very mixed neighborhood. ... I'm actually, again, talking to some people, if we had had this conversation three months ago, it would have been entirely different, because I'm now ... it's like the [Marcel] Proust and the madeleines; it's coming back to me, but, my block was a very mixed block, and I think that's good. [Editor's Note: Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was a French novelist. In his most well known work, Remembrance of Things Past, there is an episode where the narrator, while eating a petit madeleine, is prompted to recall a time from his past when he enjoyed a similar combination of cake and tea.] I mean, we live here, in the city of Trenton, in a very mixed block, and our kids have said to us so many times how happy they are that we did not move out to a fancy suburb where everybody was cookie cutter, that they grew up in a place where there is a lot of people not like them ethnically, racially, religiously, and they've both said it's been the best thing in the world, so, that's good to know.
SH: As a young man, you talked about playing baseball.
SH: Was it organized?
MP: No. ... It was all pick-up team, neighborhood team stuff. I mean, we used to give ourselves names. I never played in organized sports. I rebelled against coaches even then. I just wanted to play. I didn't want someone to tell me what to do. There are some strands here, you know. [laughter]
SH: You talked about your mother working for the ...
MP: Perth Amboy YMHA, which is now called the JCC [Jewish Community Center] in most places, yes.
SH: Was there a program within that for ...
MP: Oh, for, yes, absolutely, I used to go there all the time. I went for summer day camp the YMHA ran, it was in Edison, New Jersey in Roosevelt Park, called Camps No'ar and Gamad, and, but, we used to come to the [YMHA]. First of all, the Hebrew school classes were held at the YMHA. I played basketball at the YMHA, I swam at the YMHA, [they] had ... dances, ... my first furtive social life, ... played ping pong; ... the whole nine yards.
SH: In grade school, did you already have a focus on what you thought you would one day want to be?
MP: That's interesting. I was always interested in the world. I mean, I was six years old in the [Dwight D.] Eisenhower [Adlai] Stevenson [1952 United States presidential] election; I remember it very, very well. I was always interested in politics. I was always interested in the outside world, and I think the fact that my dad was a newspaper man certainly was part of that. On Sundays, I would go, he was at that point, he was writing ... all the editorials for the paper, and on Sunday mornings, I would go to the Roky Luncheonette on Smith Street, and they would put aside for my dad all of the New York papers, and Newark [papers], and by then that was about seven: The [New York] Times, the [New York Herald]Trib[une], the [New York World-]Telegram, the [New York] Journal [American], The American, the [Daily] News, the [New York Daily]Mirror, and the Newark Star Ledger, and Newark News; that was eight papers, and I would bring them home, and I would read all the sports sections. [Editor's Note: The New York Journal American was formed in 1937 after the morning paper, the American, and the evening paper, the New York Evening Journal, merged.] I mean, I was in heaven, eight sports sections, my God, but, I think I read the rest, too, but, I was always aware of what was going on. I certainly remember the [Army]-McCarthy hearings [Editor's note: Senator Joseph McCarthy chaired the Senate Permanent Subcommittee investigations into Communist infiltration of the United States government during part of 1953 and 1954] I remember the Rosenbergs' executions. [Editor's note: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried and convicted on charges of espionage in 1951 for plotting to pass United States military intelligence concerning the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They were executed in 1953.]
SH: Do you really?
MP: To which I find out I now know, I mean, it's very interesting that my father's cousin, Marshall [Perlin], whom he never knew, and this was not because of politics, it was probably because it was something, might have happened in Vilnius, I never knew, and I've become friends with Marshall's daughter over the years, but, Marshall represented the Rosenbergs' children, the Meeropols. So, that's kind of my one degree away from that, yes, and, but, I remember that very, very clearly that that was a major issue in my household. [Editor's note: Robert and Michael Rosenberg were adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol.]
SH: Were the events of the day discussed around the dinner table?
MP: Every day, every day. In fact ... I will, if I can find [it] later, I will show you the ... preface to my treatise. The first volume, the first edition, the first volume of my mental disability law treatise, in which I, [when] people say, "How did this book start?" I say, "Well, maybe it started here, maybe it started there, but, it really started sitting around the dinner table in Perth Amboy," so, that's, yes.
SH: So you were not part of the home where the child is to be seen and not heard.
MP: Hardly. [laughter]
SH: You talked about politics, and you talked about being very aware of the election, and all of that. Was your father active in politics, or was he reporting?
MP: Now, this is very interesting. Wow, what a great question. His newspaper [that] he worked for was a very conservative newspaper. His boss was very conservative, so, his politics had to be completely separated out from his role [as a reporter] but, I mean, I certainly remember my mother's telling me that her father was a socialist, and my father saying there was certainly, there was a decision made to vote for [Eugene V.]Debs over Roosevelt in the 1930s, [Editor's note: Debs ran for president on the Social Democratic Party ticket in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and the last time from prison in 1920 against the Democratic ticket of James Cox and Franklin Roosevelt and the winning Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and J. Calvin Coolidge. Debs died in October 1926.] So, this is clearly the Jewish left, socialist tradition, and I always wondered, sort of, to what extent that my father had to sort of suppress that, as part of his job? What impact that had on him? We'll never know, but, it was clearly, it was clearly there, almost as a given. ... I was always amazed when I met people who came from different kinds of homes. I always thought that's what everybody was like. [laughter] I was wrong.
SH: It sounds delightful.
MP: I was a happy kid. You can tell. ... You can tell, yes.
SH: Because the elections in that time period after Roosevelt, were not necessarily kind to Democrats for quite some time ...
SH: How were those discussions?
MP: Oh, I remember my aunt coming upstairs, my Aunt Elsie, who was a history teacher, who had passed away a couple of years ago at almost age a hundred.
SH: Oh, my.
MP: I know, and, I remember Elsie crying in 1956, "How could they vote for [Eisenhower]? How could they not elect [Democratic candidate Adlai] Stevenson?" My father saying, "Elsie, the world is not just you and your friends." My father was always kind of had the, not cynical, but, sort of the ... had the long ...
MP: Yes, pragmatic, long view on it. ... I wore Stevenson [campaign] buttons to school in sixth grade. How geeky is that? [laughter] Sure to impress the girls, right? ...
SH: Oh, I'm sure. [laughter] You talked about your social activity revolving around what is now the JCC. When you got into high school, was that the first time that you were aware of anti-Semitism, or had it been discussed at home?
MP: There was some in grammar school.
SH: Had you been warned?
MP: ... Oh, I mean, we discussed it at home. I mean, clearly, I was born the year after World War II was over, although I never learned that I had any family who died in the Holocaust until three years ago.
MP: Yes, because we were told that all of the Perlins came over. I am standing in the Penera Forest outside of Vilnius, Lithuania, in the summer of 2005, and I am, this is, this is where they took all the Jews the first day to shoot them, and there was a plaque up on this monument that had the names of the people killed on the first day, and I'm looking, and I see the name PERLINGAS and "gas" is Lithuanian for "married man" and the guide, Regina, said, "Michael, what's wrong?" and I looked, and she said, "Ah." I said, "What do you mean, ah?" She said, "This has happened so often." I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "He was probably," that person, who I had never heard of, "the one member of your family who was financially successful. They felt nothing could happen to them." She said, "Your family was poor." I said, "Totally," and she said, "Sure, they came over." So, I mean, clearly anti-Semitism was something that was a topic. I mean, there's no question about that. I never felt any at all in school through, through grammar, through Number One, through fifth grade, and sixth through eighth grade, I recall some of the hoods saying anti-Semitic things, but, it was more isolated, because ... the grammar schools, there were two, there were two junior high schools, grammar school and the Shull School. ... Two of the schools that fed to the grammar school, Number One and Number Seven, were where virtually all the Jewish kids ... in the town lived, and, also, where the, where virtually all the ... white, Protestant kids lived, and, I guess, the black, Protestant kids, too. So, I didn't feel it that much ... and the hoods were really seen as outliers. When I got to high school, it was very different. There were some seriously, dangerous people in my high school class.
SH: Before we talk more about high school, and some of the ...
MP: ... I have a vignette about that, when I was a public defender, remind me, say, "state prison."
SH: Oh, all right.
MP: For the record, she winced. Go on, yes.
SH: You were born right after World War II. Do you have any early memories or remember any discussions about people that were Holocaust survivors coming into ...
SH: Or being brought over ...
MP: Absolutely none, absolutely none. I had a couple of uncles who were in World War II. I had an uncle who was in World War I, actually, which I did not learn about until his funeral, when I saw his dress uniform. I never knew that, but, my Uncle Jerry was in the Solomon Islands, ... in the Asian campaign.
SH: Was he a Perlin?
MP: No, he was ... Jerry was my Aunt Grace Perlin's husband, Fertig, yes. I'm trying to think who else. My Aunt Elsie, who I mentioned before, was either in the WACS [Women's Army Corps] or the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service], I forget which one.
MP: Yes. On my mom's side, I don't know. Luke might have been the only one who was in. I actually don't recall.
SH: Okay. Now, please, the vignette about the state prison.
MP: Oh, yes. ... This is jumping forward. I'm a public defender, and, in New Jersey, '71 to '74, and I'm in the state prison visiting a client, and I hear someone go, "Hey, Perlin," and I looked, and it was a kid who was in my homeroom in high school, who I had not seen since, and he was never, he was not one of my tormentors. We never had anything to do with each other, but, our names were close alphabetically, and he was in for triple homicide, and it was kind of a very, shall I say, poignant moment. I'm sorry.
MP: I know, yes. Yes, it's just one of those things you don't forget.
SH: I'm glad that you shared that memory.
MP: I'm blessed with, or cursed, with too good of a memory sometimes, as you'll find out.
SH: Going into high school, what were you looking forward to?
MP: Going to high school; having a choice of courses to take; I thought that was, like, the coolest thing that I had some selection. I've never liked to be sort of pushed into a pigeonhole, and, I mean, this goes back when I was in day camp. I didn't understand why I couldn't play baseball eight hours a day, why I had to waste my time making lanyards, and those things, those arts and crafts projects, you know, aaack! ... So, I was looking forward to that in high school, and meeting more girls, too, I guess. [laughter]
SH: That does happen.
MP: Yes, yes, yes.
SH: Did you have after-school jobs?
MP: ... It's interesting, a couple. I also should say that my dad got sick in 1960, and we, he had had an awful lot of operations between, say, 1955, '56, and '60, and we spent part of both my sophomore and junior years of high school in Florida, in Miami Beach, and that was a very important moment for me, and the sequence is odd. I started Perth Amboy High School as a sophomore. In January, we moved to Miami Beach, just in time for midterm exams at an excellent academic high school, which Perth Amboy was not. We moved back to Perth Amboy in May, so, I took my final exams there. I started my junior year in Perth Amboy until February, and then, went back to Miami Beach from February to June, and then, I had my whole senior year in Perth Amboy. So, it was this back and forth, back and forth, which was very dislocating for me, but, it made college adjustment very easy, because I had gone, I had had to sort of change horses in midstream, and the high school in Miami Beach was superb. It was a "ninety percent going to college" high school, whereas Perth Amboy High School was, maybe, fifteen percent, so, I really had to sort of step it up, and also, coming in right before exams, that sort of taught me to work under pressure, so that was, that was all very good. Why did I interrupt to tell you that? You had asked, what was your last question before that?
SH: I had asked what you were looking forward to in high school. You said choosing your own courses.
MP: No, there was something else after that.
SH: Then, you said that you needed to tell me that you didn't stay in Perth Amboy.
MP: Yes, but, you had asked me another question.
SH: If you worked after school.
MP: Got it, okay, go.
SH: The question was, did you have any jobs after school in high school?
MP: I had a couple. The best one, one of the best jobs I ever had, I worked for a guy named Sy Vogel who ran a music store on Smith Street, and he offered to pay me either cash, or I could take it out in-trade. I took it out in-trade, and I still have, downstairs, one of the world's, I think, great vinyl jazz collections, and a lot of that has never gone on CD. So, I worked there. I also worked for awhile tutoring. There were, at the hospital, there were doctors, or interns, or residents, who knows what, who were not US born, who needed some tutoring in English grammar, and I did that for awhile, as well. When I was in high school in Florida, my great jobs were working, in what I will call, and this sounds awful, an "old ladies' hotel" which is exactly what I mean, in which I was both the telephone switchboard operator, and the elevator operator. ... Oh, my God, if that elevator was not exactly flat, I heard it from them. I always thought that really prepared me for life better than any other job I ever had in my life. [laughter]
SH: Were there other languages spoken at home?
MP: My parents spoke Yiddish. I knew a little bit. They used to use that when they didn't want me to know what they were talking about. I still can't figure out what it was. No, and I was like most Jewish males of my age and upbringing; I can read Hebrew fluently, and I have no idea what it is I'm saying, I have a very limited vocabulary, but, I can read as if I'm a native, and that's very common, because we were never taught [to speak]. We were taught how to pray, we were not taught how to speak, because in the early 1950s, Hebrew was not a spoken language except for the few people living in Israel, and ... that's all become recent. This is a conversation, when I go to Israel, I always have with the security guards, because they give you real intense questioning. [laughter]
SH: Around the dinner table, was the state of Israel, and all of that, something that was discussed? ...
MP: Oh, yes. No, I mean, clearly, the impact of the Holocaust was something that was considered, there's no question, but, I also remember a book that my dad had, which I found, I guess after my mom passed away in '02, and I was cleaning up her apartment, and it was called something like They Are People Too, about the Palestinians in Israel, and I thought to myself, "Well, my dad must have bought that sometime in the 1950s, or the early 1960s at the latest, and that he was always, I thought, ... was able always to see every side of just about every issue, and, Israel was clearly important, but it was certainly not an obsession, or anything like that.
SH: Do you remember the civil defense drills?
MP: Oh, yes, yes. I mean, I just thought it was silly. I was never scared by it, and I was ...
SH: Okay, that's what I wanted to know.
MP: Yes, and, also, I mean, I found my educational experience pretty stultifying in many ways. I felt it was very uncreative. The teachers were very formulaic. They ... never wanted to sort of "go off plan" so, anything that interrupted it was good. I mean, I loved snow days. I would, I'd sit home and watch reruns and read books. I used to read all the time. I've always been a voracious, voracious reader.
SH: With the atmosphere in school, and because of your father's health and having to travel, what extracurricular activities were you able to participate in?
MP: What are we talking about here?
SH: In high school.
MP: High school; I was sports editor of the school newspaper. I was involved in a lot of clubs, and things of that sort. I mean, I was in the band. I was in the orchestra; those were major activities for me. I wrote a couple of skits. ... There's two kinds of school plays. There's ... doing the 876th version of Our Town, which I was never involved in, but, we'd sometimes write our own skits, and that I enjoyed doing. I remember there was a thing called the drama club, which meant we could get off, every once and awhile, on a Wednesday, and go to see a Broadway show. I don't go to the Broadway theater anymore, because it bores me, but, I loved it back then. ... The student newspaper, and ... I was some kind of an editor of the yearbook, but, I can't remember exactly what that was.
SH: So, you were able to be involved in extracurricular activities.
MP: I was very involved in stuff, yes.
SH: When you went down to Miami, you talked about having a job at that time. What was the mix of the school there?
MP: It was ninety-five percent Jewish, probably, and it was mostly, half, I mean, there were like kids who, I remember a dozen kids in my class, who had been in Stuyvesant High School the year before, so, these were a mix. Don't forget, also, Florida then, that part of Florida, was religiously restricted. Jews could not live in most of Florida, in most of South Florida, and, you just raised your eyebrows, absolutely. You could look at the rosters of some of the high schools in Miami, and the surrounding towns, and you would find not a single Jewish name. Jews were ghettoized into Miami Beach.
SH: I had no idea.
MP: Absolutely, absolutely. ... So, I wasn't being beaten up, so, that was great, and there were smart kids, that was great. The best group, the best performance group I've ever been in, in my life, was the Miami Beach High School Concert Band. I have never, ever been in anything as good as that group was, and I wish I could play as good now as I did then. I also loved to fish, and that was one of the great activities I did with my parents. I learned how [when] we used to go to this little resort. My kids always love it when I say the name, it was called Levy's All Kosher Grandview Hotel in Colchester, Connecticut. You know, six nights a week, chicken; one night, roast beef; but, it had a great fishing lake, and my parents taught me how to fish when I was four years old, and I used to go fishing with my dad. [In Florida] he would pick me up after school, because he was out of work then, and we would drive out to the Tamiami Trail, which is now housing developments, and strip malls, and roads, and it, then, was a back road, Tamiami, Tampa to Miami, in which Native Americans lived. ... We used to go fishing for largemouth bass, and if we caught catfish we would give it to the Native American and African American fishermen, because it wasn't kosher. My mother wouldn't cook it, and we would bring the bass home for dinner. We used to do that all the time. An interesting story, I stopped fishing when I got into college, and I never took it up again until after my dad passed away, and then, I started and I've been fishing ever since. I mean, not as much now. I used to go all the time. The Delaware River is a block away. I used to go all the time. Now, I'm too busy, but, I will say this, and I've said this many times, the single best day of the year for me is when our daughter and I go striped bass fishing in Chatham Harbor in Cape Cod every summer. We rent a house, rent a cottage on what's called "the pond," it's a little lake, and there's a kayak, and I go out, and, every day fish for largemouth, and one day I fish for stripers.
SH: Before we begin talking about colleges and those decisions, had your family travelled to other destinations other than Miami ...
MP: No. [laughter]
SH: And Connecticut?
MP: No. I remember my dad had two business trips in his life, in his newspaperman [days]: one to Great Rapids, Michigan, and one to, where is the Marine base in the, Parris Island. But, going on a plane, oh, my God, I remember my mother sitting with him for days figuring out what tie, necktie, is he going to wear. I mean, this was like a big deal. They had travelled a little bit. I remember he went on a fishing trip ... to Montreal once with my uncle, and my mom had done some travelling before they got married. But, when I was growing up, until I went to Miami when I was fourteen, the only states I had ever been in were Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. I just had never travelled anywhere, and we stopped going to Levy's. We went to ... other hotels, but, always in the Catskill area, and I was not [well traveled]. My first time that I was on an airplane, and skipping ahead, was in the summer of 1965. ... When I was editor of the Rutgers [Daily] Targum, and I was at a Student Press Association Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, I took the train there, but, I had to fly home for a cousin's wedding. [Editor's note: The Daily Targum is the official student newspaper of Rutgers University.] That was the first time I was ever in a plane. My kids, of course, were both in airplanes before they were eighteen months old, but, obviously a different story. But, no, we had never travelled, and, my God, driving to Miami Beach, and getting to Delaware, and seeing "Colored" water fountains absolutely freaked me out.
SH: They were still in existence.
MP: Still in existence in 1960, absolutely; utterly, totally segregated, yes.
SH: That far north.
MP: Yes, exactly. Well, part of New Jersey; I mean, you mentioned somebody from Egg Harbor before, part of New Jersey is below the Mason-Dixon Line.
SH: That's true.
MP: It's a different world.
SH: When you are in high school, and you are going to Miami mid-year, you then come back to finish your senior year.
MP: Yes, [in] Perth Amboy.
SH: When did you begin to look at colleges? Was it expected that you would go to school?
MP: Of course, oh, yes. I mean, that was never on the table, and I wanted to. I also wanted to get away. I remember, saying, "My God, I'll be able to get up in the morning and go to class and not have to look around and see who's behind me, or who was a head of me." But, it's funny, you say, "looking at colleges," I mean, the whole idea of how one selected a college in 1961, '62, and today is totally, totally different. I applied to five schools, and I was accepted to Rutgers, Columbia, and Cornell, and I went to Columbia, and I really sort of liked, enjoyed my interview there, and I liked it, but, here I was, I was still fifteen. I had, other than being in relatives' homes, I had been away from home exactly one day in my life, and I thought, I just could not ... handle New York City. I knew Rutgers. My father, when he was a newspaper man, he used to get tickets to the Rutgers football games. He was not a big fan at all, but, he used to take me, so, I was on the Rutgers campus a lot as a little kid, so, I had some sort of familiarity with it, and, even though my parents were moving, I had a lot of family still in the area. So, Cornell was just way too unapproachable for me, so, I chose Rutgers.
SH: Was Rutgers also on the table because your father was a Rutgers graduate?
MP: I think partially that, I think that's about five percent. I mean, it was clearly, it was close by. Also, my father had been out of work for a year, so, money was clearly an issue, and my cousin, Terry, who was two years older than I, was there, and he was, like, my closest cousin growing up, and he was ahead of me. He was actually three years older than I, and he loved it, and I had friends who had gone, and I felt like this would be a good idea.
SH: Was your cousin Terry a Perlin as well?
MP: Yes, his dad, Matt, was my father's older brother.
SH: Was he involved in fraternities?
MP: No, he was, no, he was also involved with the newspaper. I'm trying to remember what other extracurricular activities Terry was involved in. He was on the newspaper, and I cannot remember what else he did. ... Terry became a college professor, and he taught, just retired last year. I had coffee with him about a year ago, I haven't seen him since, at the University of Miami of Ohio, and, but, he had started law school, dropped out after a year, and then, went to get his PhD, I think, at Brandeis [University] in history.
SH: Did you live with him, or anything like that?
MP: Oh, no, no, no, no, he was a junior. I was a freshman.
SH: I know that age difference is important. [laughter]
MP: C'mon, yes, yes, yes, yes.
SH: Did you visit the Rutgers campus for other than for the football games? Was there an interview? What was the process then?
MP: ... I remember my Columbia interview. I remember a horrible Harvard interview. Oh, my God, my father drove me to Elizabeth, New Jersey where this guy was, and it was in a very, very austere apartment, and he had this collection of chachkas. I mean, it was like Chinese, I don't know, Ming dynasty something, and I had nothing to say about them, and he seemed like affronted, that somebody would apply to Harvard and not be able to discuss his antiquities with him. Needless to say, I didn't get in, which is fine, but, no, I don't think I ever had an interview. I don't think Rutgers ever interviewed back then, and many kids from my high school class went; I think twenty-five or thirty, probably, quite a few of whom dropped out, or failed out after the first semester of their first year.
SH: Where were you housed your first year?
MP: ... My first year I was in Hegeman [Hall], in the Quad, on the first floor. I think the room was 116. I could probably show off and give you my entire freshman schedule, with professors, classrooms, and hours. I mean, that's, I have what, I mean, a friend of mine, who is a forensic psychiatrist, has called an eidetic memory. I can remember, I can tell you the, Giants, Dodgers, Yankees, twenty-five man rosters for the 1950s. I can tell you set lists of [Bob] Dylan concerts that I saw back then, and, more recently. I can tell you sidemen on any, almost any jazz concert I've ever seen, but, when I was teaching in Israel in January, I was a Fulbright at University of Haifa, I had to go to the MAC [Money Access Center] machine to get some money, and I couldn't remember my pin code. So, I had to IM [instant message] my wife, "Was it Alex's birthday? Is it Julie's birthday? Is it our address? Is it our anniversary?" [laughter] Hopeless. So, I can remember that, there's also primacy and recency, you remember the first thing, so, I do in fact remember that. I lived there my first year. I lived in Livingston, which was the third river dorm. I know it's changed its name since then. My second year, I lived in Hardenbergh [Hall], the next to it, in the same room, second floor, 231, and, I think, my junior year, and I was a preceptor in Demarest [Hall] in my senior year.
SH: Were you?
MP: I was.
SH: How was Demarest set up then?
MP: Well, it was, don't forget, Rutgers was all boys, then.
SH: Right, of course.
MP: Alas, yes, it was. I mean, it was set up, there were three stories, three floors, and there was two side, two wing sides, sort of like an "A" without the bar, and this was in the sort of upper, left-hand corner on the third floor. In the first semester, my roommate and I were in the small, two-person room, and then, there was a three next to us, and one of the "threes" failed out, and, so, we wound up persuading the other "twos" to change rooms with us, so, the two of us had a really, big room for the second half. [laughter]
SH: Were there social activities that you were in charge of?
MP: I have no recollection at all. I mean, I think I was there basically to make sure that people didn't get too drunk; that if they had serious problems, I would direct them to the right person, and just sort of act as this guru. I mean, I was very involved as the editor-in-chief of Targum. I was involved in a million campus activities, so, I knew a lot of people.
SH: Did your involvement with Targum start immediately your freshman year?
MP: I went out, not my first semester, but, second semester of my freshman year, I went out. I decided first semester I just wanted to kind of concentrate on work because I had no idea what it was going to be like.
SH: Did you have a major?
MP: I was a political science major. ... Rutgers did not have official minors, but, I certainly had enough to qualify for an American Studies minor, and also, probably, English and history. I mean, I took the two sciences I had to take, and other than that, I took what I was interested in.
SH: The people from your freshman year, were they the people that you've remained friends with?
MP: I had coffee with my friend Sid Rosenzweig about a month ago, and I said to Sid, "You know what's amazing? You, me, and Leo," Leo is the guy I mentioned to you before, Leo Ribuffo, "sat next to each other in freshman year history." We had, Mr. Charanis was the lecturer, Peter Charanis.
SH: He was still there then, right.
MP: Yes, and we were in the first row, because we had bad eyes, so they put us there so we could see the board better, and it was alphabetical, so, it was Perlin, Ribuffo, Rosenzweig. No idea who was on my left, or Sidney's right, and we've stayed good friends over the years. A couple weeks ago I had lunch, Linda and I had lunch with my friend, Larry Benjamin, who was also a high school friend. Larry is class correspondent for my year, and Larry is, I guess, in a lot of ways, my oldest friend. We became friends in sixth grade in grammar school, and went to high school and college together. I'm still friends with other people. Hank Wallace was a year behind me, whom I see, who's kind of a cousin of a cousin. I still see other people. I mean, not certainly as many as I used to. When I practiced law in New Jersey, I saw many more people in the courts. Now that I'm in New York, it's many, many fewer.
SH: What was the relationship with the fraternities for someone living in the dorms?
MP: Oh, I mean ... I remember, I sort of went to the fraternity houses during the rush period, just to sort of see what it was like, and one asked me to join, and I declined, and I've never regretted that. I always thought it was just silly. I mean, I had a couple of friends, including the guy who I wound up rooming with for a little bit of time in New York afterwards, who were fraternity members, but, I just found the whole fetishism just bizarre, and I was thrilled to see them disappear, and I'm chagrined to see the way they've come back. I am delighted that my kids were not in them in college. ... I think Wesleyan [University], where Julie went, had them, but, no one took them very seriously, and ... Alex went to Macalester [College]; I don't even think they had them. ... It just baffles me why people do that stuff.
SH: Was there a competition, or a sense of tension between members of the fraternities and those who chose not to participate in them?
MP: Oh, I mean, I had so many things that I was doing, I didn't even care. I mean, it was not, you know, and I expect there were certainly some girls who would be much more interested in the guys who did that, and they're probably ...
SH: What was the interaction with Douglass College at that point?
MP: Not nearly enough. [laughter] I mean, I have just found out that this woman, who was a friend from high school, was at Douglass the same time as I was at Rutgers, and she and I are now chatting, and she lives in California. She and her husband have some kind of a solar energy company; we're chatting about jazz, and stuff. I said, "Pam, you were, we were at the same campus. We never saw each other in four years." I mean, I had a girlfriend, I had girlfriends from Douglass. I used to go to mixers, and things like that, and occasionally, Rutgers and Douglass girls would work together, Rutgers guys and Douglass girls, would work together on stuff, but, they were very, very separate to the detriment of everybody. I think same sex schools are barbaric.
SH: Was ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] still mandatory?
MP: It was not mandatory. It had just changed a couple years before. I don't know what I would have done if it was. I may not have gone.
SH: Was there mandatory chapel of any kind?
SH: Or convocations?
MP: No, there was, I mean, we used to have things in the [Kirkpatrick] chapel. We used to use the chapel for convocations. I don't know, it was like every fourth Monday freshman year, and maybe there'd be a speaker, but, it could have been in Bishop Hall [House], or in Winants Hall, or something. It was just, there was a beautiful building, and I loved [Bradford Sherman] Abernathy was his name. I loved him. He was great.
SH: Was he the Dean of Men?
MP: No, Abernathy, he was the chaplain.
SH: Oh, he was the chaplain.
MP: Yes, the Dean of Men was Howard Crosby, who comes into my story later when we talk about Vietnam.
MP: There was another, Dean Dobens, who I have no real recollection of, was some kind of Dean of Student Affairs. Dean Bishop was Academic Dean, [George] Reginald Bishop. He was ... pretty impressive; story about him later, too.
SH: Who was the president of the university while you were here?
MP: Mason Gross, one of the greatest men I've ever known in my life.
SH: How much interaction would an undergraduate such as yourself have with him?
MP: I had more than the typical because I was editor of the paper.
MP: ... But, I believe anyone who wanted to see him, he would see.
SH: As a freshman, you said the first semester you kind of laid back, so to speak, but then second semester of your freshman year, is that when you joined the Targum?
MP: Yes, I'm laughing because, and this is kind of one of the ... you know how we always repeat patterns, right? I joined, and I went in so full tilt boogie, that I wound up ... in the hospital for two or three weeks with bronchial pneumonia. ... I was covering something and I just sort of stayed out all night, dressed like for the spring, in a snowstorm, and I was really, really sick. In fact, they wanted me to drop out of school and, of course, being me, I didn't. But ... that was it for me from then on, and ... I did other things. I did a little bit with a radio station, and a lot of other student organizations.
MP: Yes, right, but, Targum was it for me; that was in my blood. I loved it. I mean, and my dad had always said to me, "Do whatever you want, but, please don't become a newspaperman." He felt that it almost killed him, and it was a miserable existence back then. I don't think it's very much better now, in a lot of ways. But, I was probably a better, I probably would have been a better newspaperman than I am a lawyer, and, again, I always tell people the best job I ever had was being editor of the Targum.
SH: When did you get that position?
MP: My junior year.
SH: What did you cover when you were working there as a second semester freshman, and then, your sophomore year? Did you have a ...
MP: A beat?
SH: A column?
MP: No, no, no, I mean, [as a] freshman, you didn't get a column until you became an editor, you were just a reporter, but, you were always encouraged, besides giving up ... Sunday nights, we would go down to the basement of ... Wessels, [it] is where I was freshman year. ... Hegeman was where Targum was. Wessels Hall was where I lived; it was the four buildings in the Quad.
SH: Oh, okay.
MP: Okay, and ... geeze, I can't believe I've forgotten the others, wow, and we would go down to the basement, and ...
SH: Of Hegeman.
MP: Yes, or Wessels, maybe, I don't know, well, it's ... easy to find, one or the other, and they would give us our assignments for the week, and I had my assignments. We were always encouraged to do other things as well, so I did a little bit of, quote, "investigative reporting." I mean, we covered student council as if it was Congress. You know, as if this was really serious stuff. I always used to do music reviews as well, too, both jazz and classical, because I knew it, and I enjoyed it. I never covered sports. I was sports editor in high school, and I just didn't want to kind of get sort of ghettoized into that, so, I never did that, but, it was clearly what mattered to me, and I remember ...when we had sort of the competition to be editors. I remember one of the things I wrote about ... you had to pick something, and I remember there was an article, remember the magazine Saturday Review? There was an article in Saturday Review that semester about how you can kind of tell a lot about colleges by looking at their bulletin boards. If everything is very orderly, it's really a boring college, and if there's a million notices all posted up on top of each other, going every which way, it's a great place to be, and Rutgers was like that, and that was my piece, and I think that that's what got me the job.
MP: Yes, and I loved it. I absolutely, absolutely loved it. I had a good editorial board. There's always a little bit of rancor when you are chosen over other people, but that seemed to pretty much dissipate, and I think the quality of the work we did was really excellent, and, of course, now that we'd come in, in March of, February or March of '65, and as my friend Mr. Dylan says, "The times they are a-changin'" and it was very, very different. I mean, a lot of people say the '60s didn't start until '67, '68, '69. I think to a great extent that's true, but, there was a cusp period. I was also, I should tell you, when my parents lived in Washington ... I was working in, I was working there over ... all those summers, I was involved in civil rights work, and one of my, sort of, great set piece stories is being at the Martin Luther King March. [Editor's Note: The March on Washington took place on August 28, 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Goals of the march included the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation, the creation of a public works program to provide jobs, and desegregation of all school districts.]
SH: Now, this is because you would go to Washington ...
MP: For the summers, with my parents. I worked for my congressman, a guy named Ed[ward] Patten, who was from Perth Amboy, and the fifteenth district was just created at that time. I don't know how many districts [there were then], New Jersey's down to thirteen now, and he hired me for one [month]. He said to my [dad], he had known my dad, and he said, "I'll hire him for one month, and if he's good, he'll stay," and I stayed for six years, doing press releases, things of that sort, but, Ed had been given tickets to the [march], VIP tickets, because he was one of those northern, union, labor Democrats, who always supported civil rights, and he had been given tickets, VIP tickets to the march, and he gave it to me, and I've written about this. There's a letter to the editor in The Washington Post and a chapter in a Dylan book about exactly this. ... I was sitting in between James Garner, who was always involved in left causes, and Brook Benton. I don't know if you remember Brook Benton, sort of a soul, gospel singer. Brook Benton had, one of them, I think. Benton had alligator boots on; I had never seen them before, and so, this is, like, so cool. ... I'm as close to King as you are now to my front window.
SH: Twenty feet or less.
MP: That's how close it was, and Benton puts his hand on my shoulder and says, "Son, this is the first day of the rest of America. Never forget it." ... Yes, it was really very, quite an experience. ... So, again, it was always sort of politics, and the war movement, are we ...
MP: Turn it on, and we'll start talking.
SH: Being able to see Dr. King's speech in Washington when you were just a college freshman ...
MP: Yes, I was seventeen.
SH: You had just finished your freshman year ...
MP: Yes, exactly.
SH: ... You had just started to write for the Targum.
SH: Did you write something immediately after that? Did you come home and make some type of record of your experiences? How did you document something like that? Did you understand the immensity of what you had witnessed?
MP: Well, it's so hard when you're seventeen to understand the immensity of anything. ... I mean, this is actually [my second semester], and, I talked about Dylan before, but, it's related. So ... my second semester, my freshman year, ... this is the spring of '63, and [the] civil rights movement has started. There are very few African American students at Rutgers, it was shameful how few. I mean, someone said, at one point, ... there were more black students from Africa and Asia on the Rutgers undergraduate campus than from New Jersey, and that's certainly possibly true, and I never knew why that was. I mean, I have my suspicions, but, of course, I don't know, but, you could. You know, civil rights was happening. Now, I was taking, I mean, my freshman year I took poli sci 101, 102, history 101, 102, 202, 102, but, that was all global; it was not about what was happening now. Those were survey courses, so, I had not yet gotten into sort of the nitty gritty ... current stuff. I took most of that, obviously, as time went on, but, I was aware, and I was, I was following it; it mattered a lot, and again, I started, as I said, doing civil rights work. I used to go and picket apartment houses in Virginia. Someone tried to run me over in a car, and ... people talk about adrenaline. I mean, I am not what you call a high jumper, but, I was able to get over a hedge, there is no way in hell I ever could have ever gotten over, if this guy wasn't barrel-assing down on me. So, I did that kind of stuff. Before the anti-war was civil rights. Now, here's the story. The night before my political science exam ... freshman year at Rutgers, a guy named Jeff Lukowsky, who I haven't seen since college, maybe not since sophomore year in college, comes to me and says, "Michael, what are you doing?" I said, "I'm studying for, we have our exam tomorrow in poli sci." He says, "No, we're not." I say, "What do you mean, we're not?" I was a good boy then. He said, "We're going to New York." I said, "What, are you out of your mind?" He says, "No, we're going to New York." I said, "Why?" He said, "There's this new folk singer in New York. He's the best folk singer in history, and we're going to go see him." I said, "What's his name?" He said, "Bob Dylan." [Editor's note: Dylan incorrectly pronounced as Die-lan.] So, he had never heard his name said; he had just seen it written, and, for whatever reason, I said, "Oh, yes, what the hell, okay." We drove in. I remember Jeff had like a 1947 Ford. We had to stop the car three times, in the Holland Tunnel, to put oil in; it was like, it was one of those real clunkers, right. ... We went to see Dylan at, and this is, actually, there is an article by Nick Paumgarten in The New Yorker about this, about me and Dylan, written about eight years ago in "[The] Talk of the Town" [Fall 2002] and we saw Dylan in Gerde's Folk City, which was one of those old folk clubs about as big as this room, and Dylan passed his hat afterwards, and I put in a quarter, he said, "Thanks, man," and that was my communication with him. [laughter] So, there he is playing in a room with college kids, passing the hat, in May. [In]August, he's standing up on the stage with [Joan] Baez, and Odetta and Peter, Paul, and Mary, and everybody else. Oh, my God, so, and that, to me, told me something about how fast the times were changing. How, this was not a slow trajectory, it was just, "kaboom," and that, politically, I thought, was of some significance. I don't remember whether I wrote anything for Targum when I got back about the march. I expect I did, but, it would not have been a column. It would have been some kind of a feature, probably boxed on the front page. I don't remember. I wish I did. Sophomore year, I spent a lot of time on the newspaper. I took American government, political science courses, and kind of an American, American history courses, and got much more into that. I was always much more interested then in the American stuff than the other stuff. Although it's interesting, as I said to you earlier, in my last ten years, so much of my time has been devoted to international human rights laws. It's like, go figure, you know, but, I was just so interested in the American stuff. ... During this time, '63, '64, and, of course, the Kennedy assassination, and I remember so clearly. I mean, this is kind of an interesting story. [Editor's Note: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas while riding in a presidential motorcade.] Everybody remembers, of our generation, where they were. I was in the, it was a Friday, I was in the Rutgers bookstore, and I had to do something. So, even though I was on the newspaper, rather than the radio station, I went to the radio station, and I worked there until midnight, and what I did was, I kept calling. I called the people in Washington at Ed Patten's office, and they gave me people to contact, so, I contacted people all over the country for comments and things, and I helped put together that [programming], and I never went back. It was just kind of a one, it was a one-shot deal.
SH: Who else was at the radio station that night?
MP: God, I don't remember. There was a guy named, sorry, I'm giving you names, Rick Hersh, who actually lives near here, who I haven't seen in twenty, twenty-five years, [who] was editor ... he was station manager, the year I was editor of Targum, so, presumably he was there. There was a guy, who was a senior, named Jeff [Colvin?] something; I can't remember. I don't know, but, I remember being up there. I remember doing the work, really kind of working all the angles.
SH: Because that is a pivotal moment for those of us who lived through that time, please talk about that day and how it evolved. When did you first hear the news?
MP: It was right then. It was one o'clock in the afternoon, the radio in the bookstore was always on WABC, and ... that was what was on.
SH: The first news was that he had been shot.
SH: But then, the news ...
MP: Seconds later. I mean, seconds later, and we were all just kind of dazed, and I remember the next night, my freshman year's roommate, who was, actually he became, he's passed away, became an actor and a dancer in, on Broadway and the [New York] City Opera, [he] was starring in a production of Finian's Rainbow, and I remember talking to my then girlfriend about, did we want to go, or not. We decided we would go, just kind of to be with other people, but, it was one of those things I just remember, whenever I hear anything from Finian's Rainbow now, it's always twinned with Kennedy's death.
SH: Isn't that amazing?
MP: Yes. ... Then Thanksgiving was the next week, and I remember going home, and seeing so much of it. It was good to be with my parents at that time, so, this was a numbing factor. ...
SH: Was it something that you watched on television?
MP: Not that day ... not on the Friday, but, the next week I did when I was home. We had [TV]. ... There was no TVs in the dorm; people didn't have TVs.
SH: I didn't know if there was a place on campus with one.
MP: There was, yes, there was in Leupp [Hall]. Leupp, that was one of the other ones in the Quad. In Leupp, there was a television there. ... Oh, man, I lost it, help me go back, oh, got it, okay.
SH: You got it?
MP: In fact, my wife is a social worker, is a psychotherapist. She and I wrote an article together in the early 1980s, the only thing we've ever written together, for Family Therapy Networker, about music and therapy, and I remember writing there, I think this is my single best insight in my life, ... what caused the '60s was that the three events, the murder of Kennedy; the ascension of [President Lyndon Baines] Johnson, who socially, culturally, was like the anti-Kennedy, even though his politics turned out to be more liberal no one thought that; and, six weeks to the day, after the Beatles' first record being released in America; those three things together was too much for us to take, and that led to the '60s. It was just, who knows? I'm pontificating, but, I remember so clearly going home for Christmas vacation. Rock n' roll was dying in ... I take rock n' roll very seriously, it was dying in 1963. I mean, folk music was on the rise. We had ... there was a whole flap at Rutgers. There was the TV show Hootenanny, [which] came to Rutgers, and it was a whole thing about whether it should be there or not because they had barred Pete Seeger because he hadn't testified before HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee], or something, but, there was a lot of folk music going on, and, pop music then was pretty dreadful, and so, here it looks like it's just kind of on its deathbed. 1/1/64 [December 26, 1963], "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is released in America, and the world changes, no question about that. So, coming back in the spring semester with, with all of that, with the Beatles, and then, the first invasion, the world really, it felt very, very, very different, there's no question about that.
SH: What did you think of the Beatles when you first heard them?
MP: The first time I heard the first song, I was in the laundry room in the basement of my parents' apartment house, at 1111 Army Navy Drive in Arlington, Virginia, [on]WPGC AM 1560, probably, somebody from DC my age might [know], I might be off by, might be 1540. I said, "Well, it's good, but, it's not that different." Although, I guess, the seventh chord at the end was a little bit different, but, then I started to listen to it. I said, "Boy, these guys really are creative." I mean, they're just really, really different, and then, with all the other stuff coming, and it seemed like every day a new song was coming out, and every day was your new favorite song, and that really kind of did it. ... I'm still this big jazz fan. I remember my roommate, freshman year, I thought he was going to kill me. There's a record by Charles Mingus called Mingus Ah Um, that I played every single night, and the first track is "Better Git In Your Soul," which is one of the greatest single jazz tracks in history. I thought he was going to kill me. Go forward to my senior year in college, when I was [a preceptor], and these were my two put-together roommates; freshman year and senior year, because I was a preceptor, and my roommate, who was a Neil Diamond fan, I used to play [Dylan's], "Like a Rolling Stone" the single, all the time. I thought he was going to throw me and the record player out the window. [laughter] He didn't. Anyway, go figure. I digress. I always digress.
SH: That's okay.
MP: ... So in the spring of '64, Johnson is starting, moving the civil rights bill, so, we really knew something was happening. It was kind of like, you remember in [The] World According to Garp he talks about the Under Toad? There was an Under Toad going on, and we felt that Under Toad, and it was a good Under Toad. [Editor's note: In The World According to Garp (1978) by John Irving, the Under Toad is a play on the word "undertow."] [It] comes, and then, of course, stuff happens with the war. It started out as this very, sort of little thing that we didn't know, and all of a sudden, I remember, when I got back to college in the fall of '64, something had happened just then. I don't remember. It wasn't the [Gulf of] Tonkin Resolution, it was something else. ... I mean, something involving France in the August of '64, September of '64, and I kind of knew that this was going to really take off.
SH: You had that sense ...
MP: I knew, yes, yes, yes, and at that point, too, I was taking advanced courses. I had some wonderful teachers at Rutgers. I loved my poli sci faculty. I had Gerald Pomper, who was my Henry Rutgers [thesis] advisor, eventually, for a couple of courses. Eugene Meehan, who was an entirely different kind of teacher, but was wonderful. ... Lloyd Gardner in history. I never understood Richard Poirier in English, I know he was a brilliant guy. He just passed away very, very recently [August 2009]. Never understood a thing he said. ... My favorite, of course, was Richard [D.] Heffner, who was not in political science, and I see Dick; haven't seen him for a couple of years, but, we used to have dinner once, once a winter; him, me, Leo, Hank Wallace, who I mentioned before, and Kenny [Kenneth P.] O'Brien, who was a year ahead of me, who was one of my other best friends, who is a history professor at SUNY Brockport. ... Dick, and the three of us would have dinner, sort of "Mr. Chips and his boys," and I haven't seen him for awhile. ... He still does his TV show, The Open Mind, and this conversation is going to lead me to send him an e-mail before I go back to work, but, why am I telling you this? Oh, so, I was really connecting with some absolutely first-rate teachers; I was working hard; I was writing good papers; I was doing the student, the student newspaper; I was loving it. I could never be any happier.
SH: What did you write your Henry Rutgers thesis on?
MP: ... The change in the American political South since 1945. I had taken Genovese [Rutgers history professor Eugene Genovese] for a couple courses, including the South in American history, and I was absolutely fascinated by it. The fact that my parents lived in Virginia as northern Jewish liberals, [my] living in northern Virginia, our times driving to Florida, that it all sort of seared itself into my mind, and that's what I did. What's very interesting, is that I came across a copy of my thesis a while ago, and my chapter subtitles are lines from the Dylan song "Mr. Tambourine Man" and here it's, okay, that's like 1965, and in 1995, I started using Dylan titles in law review articles. [laughter] "Oo-Bla-Di, Ob-La-Da," to quote the Beatles, "life goes on," so things were happening. We're going back now, I guess, to my junior year, I become editor, and it's time, and the war is exploding, and there's a teach-in [on Vietnam]. There was this controversy as to whether this was the first teach-in, or the second teach-in. It was clearly the first all night teach-in. It started at ten o'clock at night, or ... seven o'clock at night, and went to seven the next morning.
SH: How was that organized, and who organized it?
MP: I have no idea at all ... I have no idea who organized it. It was an ad hoc committee. I don't know.
SH: By faculty?
MP: Faculty and students. ... Faculty and students, and it was in Scott Hall 125, 135, I'm showing off, one of the big lecture halls there, is where it was.
SH: The controversy as to whether it was the first teach-in or the second, was that something ...
MP: Oh, that's just, you know, that's just ...
SH: When does the controversy come up?
MP: Oh, that's just something that students at other schools, it's kind of bragging rights. It's like, "The Grateful Dead played here first." "No, they played here first." It was BS.
SH: Okay. Were there other teach-ins at Rutgers?
MP: No, no, some other schools. It was clearly the first one at Rutgers. ... It's interesting for several different reasons. First of all, it was a transformative event. There was the Genovese moment, which I will talk about in a second. I, also, as editor-in-chief of the newspaper made a decision, and my father told me later, who was, of course, a newspaper editor, he said, "Michael," he said, "you understand, you could never do this on a newspaper that was trying to make a profit?" I said, "Yes." I pulled all the advertising, and I had made [that decision], the entire newspaper was the stories about the teach-in.
MP: Yes, I cut [everything], I pulled sports, I pulled advertising, and the lead reporter was a guy called Jerry Hochman, who was two years behind me, who became a very good friend of mine. We roomed together, he was two years behind me in law school. We roomed together for a couple of years. I haven't seen him in quite awhile, but, he also might be someone you might want to talk to, and he's the one who covered it, and, so, you've got ...
SH: Did you cover it personally?
MP: No, no, I was there, I was taking notes, and I wrote editorials, that becomes the significance later, but, Jerry was the reporter, main reporter. There might have been somebody doing sidebar stories, I don't know, and, of course, this is when Genovese made the famous, "I do not fear the impending Vietcong victory, I welcome it," and Genovese was then ...
SH: You heard that statement.
MP: I heard it, oh, yes, I was there.
SH: What was the reaction, and what did you think personally?
MP: I said to myself, "Wow," that he is going to say this, and we knew he wasn't tenured at the time; we did know that. We did know that, and I was astute enough, and my dad's son enough, to know that acts have consequences, and this was not like a few kids sitting around a dorm room, with a beer BS-ing, that this was ...
SH: How big was the teach-in?
MP: There were hundreds of people there, probably at least three hundred people, maybe more. I don't know. This is, I think, sort of like ... Mookie's ground ball between Buckner's legs, that everybody says, "I was there," but the room only held a certain [number of people], but, there were people standing in the halls, certainly. [Editor's Note: Mr. Perlin is referring to Game Six of the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox, where the error made by "Bill" Buckner on "Mookie" Wilson' s ground ball allowed the Mets to extend the series to a seventh game, and ultimately win the series.] There were a few students who were opposed. I remember one group of students wanting to disrupt it, and they didn't. I remember talking some student down, and he was a big guy. I have no idea how I had the nerve to do that.
SH: Talking him down ...
MP: "Don't go up on the stage and make a jerk out of yourself."
SH: Oh, okay.
MP: Yes, forgot what his name was. I never saw him before, or after.
SH: Describe the setup for us. Scott Hall is huge.
MP: Big, yes, huge, and there were ...
SH: ... And slightly ...
MP: Yes, it's slightly stadium seating, and people were there, and there was a tremendous buzz, like, rock concert buzz, and I don't remember who the moderator was. I mean, if you can, you should be able to find these in the Targum archive. Are these online, has ever anyone put all of Targum online? I mean, I don't remember. I have a feeling there was a moderator, no idea who that was, and that different people would get up and speak, but, I remember Genovese's speech. I remember there was a real roar ...
SH: Did you know that he was going to be controversial?
MP: No, oh, no, no. I mean, from some of the things that he had said in class, I wasn't a hundred percent surprised. I mean, I had a lot of other teachers that I would have, like ... have fainted, but, no, he was, did not surprise me, but, I thought, "Wow." So, this happens, and it goes on, and, of course, that's, I don't know if that was Jerry's lead, or whether that was the off lead. Again, you can check that in Targum. So, we go back, and we're all going on caffeine, because no one's slept now for a couple of days, and I sit down with my editorial board and say, "Okay, we're going to have to keep, keep on this." I believe my editorial was "Dawn of a New Era." I believe that's the headline. I want you to check on that and tell me, but, there were several columns. Steve Herman, who was my best friend, he was my college junior year roommate, best man at my wedding, was one of the columnists. He was one of the news editors. Steve Frakt, who was the second editor, executive editor, wrote a column; several others did as well, and, a couple of days afterwards, the whole inside was our op-ed pieces and my editorials. It gets picked up by Wayne Morse, who you may recall was the one independent senator and the first antiwar opponent, and he puts it in the Congressional Record, and makes a little speech. Now, I had worked for Congress, so, I knew you could put your recipes in the Congressional Record, and nobody complains, but, he had, he spoke about it on the senate floor, and that's different. So it becomes known and all, and I remember saying ... "This is what college students should be doing." I mean, you can [or] your research assistant can find this.
SH: Were there any stringers that were putting this out to say the AP?
MP: I have no idea at all. I was totally insular at that point. I don't know.
SH: Do you remember what kind of coverage The Home News gave?
MP: ... I never saw The Home News.
SH: Or the Star Ledger?
MP: I didn't read New Jersey papers then. I read The New York Times; that was all I read was the Times.
SH: No other paper that you know of picked this up ...
MP: It's possible. I mean, I just don't know. You can find that out. I mean, that's certainly a researchable task. ... For the next couple of months, this was the big story on campus; ... Genovese and what's going to happen, and is this going to stand in his way of getting tenure? ... Some of the other professors threatened they would quit. I remember my dad saying, "They're not going to quit," and, of course, he was right. ... So, that was there, and this was, I don't know how close to the end of school was it? What month was it, April or May? April, that's what I would have guessed, in April, so, we're near exams. So, we disperse for the summer; we come back in the fall, and, at this point, [Richard J.] Hughes is running for governor, and, against, Charlie Sandman; was he the ... Republican? ... I think it was Sandman. [Editor's Note: In the 1965 New Jersey gubernatorial election, Governor Hughes ran against Republican State Senator Wayne Dumont. Sandman was the Republican candidate for governor eight years later, losing to Brendan Byrne.]
MP: Yes, yes, and ... the Republican, picks up on this. "A Rutgers professor, a professor at a state university, says, 'The Vietcong, I hope the Vietcong win' and he should be fired." Hughes does the pure Voltaire act, "I may disagree with him, will defend to his death the right to say it," and the issue is joined. ... I get involved, and I write editorials in support of Hughes, and this becomes a significant issue in the gubernatorial election. I'm nineteen-years-old, I'm editor of a [student] paper, looking for a girlfriend, [laughter] and, all of the sudden, there's this. ... Then, comes this sort of pivotal moment. I'm in my dorm, and I get a phone call from Howard Crosby, who is the Dean of Students. He says, "Michael, I'd like you to meet me on the corner of College Avenue and Mine Street." I said, "What?" He says, "Please, do me a favor." I said, "Sure." I go there, and he's there, standing next to a car, and he says, "Do you mind getting in this car?" So, I'm thinking to myself, "Geeze." I mean, I don't know when the James Bond movies came out, but, there had been a couple out already. [laughter]
MP: I'm thinking, "This is creepy." But, I figure, "Well, I'm with a dean," I trusted deans, "nothing is going to happen to me." ... There were these guys, I mean, men in black, guys in black suits, white shirts, skinny black ties, said, "We're going to take a drive." ... Basically, their line was ...
SH: Who was driving?
MP: One of the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] guys. These are clearly FBIs, no question about it. [Their line] was that this, my position, and the perpetuation of this antiwar position, was harming national security, and they wanted me to back off.
SH: Date this for me.
MP: This is sometime before November of ... in between Labor Day and Election Day of 1965.
SH: Okay, thank you.
MP: I can't do any better than that.
SH: That's fine.
MP: ... I said, "Okay, well, thanks." I got out, and ignored it.
SH: Where did they drive you to?
MP: They just drove me around campus. I mean, they drove me around, like, where (Walt's?), you know the, and what's the name of that great Italian restaurant a couple blocks behind campus? Oh, what the ... oh, best chicken parm sandwiches in the world, pure grease and cholesterol, just wonderful. There, I mean, they drove me around that area, that part of New Brunswick just behind campus. I mean, they weren't harming me, they weren't threatening me, weren't taking me to a black site.
MP: But, still, you're nineteen, and draft eligible, and you got FBI agents driving you around; that's not geared to give you a good night's sleep, right?
MP: And I ignored them.
SH: They brought you back ... to the same location.
MP: They brought me back, and I ignored them, and kept doing what I did.
SH: What did Crosby say to you? I mean ...
MP: He just kind of ...
SH: ... Was it just the FBI talking to you?
MP: ... Yes. He just kind of, that was very interesting. I think he felt obligated to be the go-between, because Rutgers was a public university, but, he was clearly putting no pressure on me, whatsoever.
SH: He was basically chaperoning.
MP: He was the chaperone, yes. He was the handler, as they say in spy talk, since that's what we should be doing now, [laughter] and I ignored them completely. Now, that's chutzpah.
SH: You are holding your cool until they let you out of the car, and then, you walked back to your dorm ...
MP: I walked back to my dorm. I was in Demarest, so, they let me off about two blocks away. I probably, there were all those [food]trucks there, I probably ordered something greasy from a truck, probably brought back some pizza and a coke, that was [what] always, always helped. I thought, "Oh, my God." ...
SH: It really began to set in, as to what had happened.
MP: ... Yes, and I just said, "To hell with it." My dad was a newspaperman, [I] figured, "What the hell? Time to step up," and I ignored them.
SH: Did you ever go to anyone for other counsel?
MP: Never, never. I didn't want anyone to talk me out of my decision. I can be bullheaded. I mean, I told, I told my friends on the paper. I told Steve Herman, who was no longer my roommate, but was my best friend. I told him about it. I may have told one or two of the other people.
SH: Did you write about it?
MP: No, I never did. I regret that now. ... I didn't want to "bell the cat" you know.
SH: You didn't what?
MP: I did not want to bell the cat.
SH: Oh, okay.
MP: Let sleeping dogs lie; that makes two bad animal metaphors there. [laughter]
SH: The next day was it any more difficult to write your editorials?
MP: No, no, I slept it off.
MP: Like a nonalcoholic hangover, it was gone, and I never thought about it again, and Hughes won by a large margin.
SH: He did.
MP: And I said, "Thank you, God," and, because I have no idea what would have happened if he lost, but, I want to jump now to about 1975 or '76, I don't know which.
SH: Ten years later.
MP: Ten years later about, yes. I am director of the New Jersey Division of Mental Health Advocacy, in the State Department of the Public Advocate. I am appointed to a committee, a state Supreme Court committee on civil commitments. The chair of the committee is Chief Justice Hughes, who had gone from being governor, to whatever he did after that, to become the Chief Justice; great Chief Justice, by the way, absolutely the best. He and Bobby [Robert] Wilentz, two best New Jersey's ever had, far and away. ... I introduced myself to him. I said, "Chief," I said, "My name is, I'm Michael Perlin. I'm Director of the Division of Mental Health Advocacy," and I said, "But," I said, "we share something in common." I said, "There's no way you'll remember," and he said, "Of course, I do. You were editor of the Rutgers' Targum. You wrote those great editorials about me. I've been wanting to thank you for ten years." I almost died. I mean, oh, my God, talk about being blown away. I mean, he was one of these guys like James Farley, blessed with a politician's memory for never forgetting a name, never forgetting a face. I was a college kid, I was nineteen. ...
SH: I want to talk about your senior year on the Targum. How does this play out? Was there any faculty or alumni oversight of the Targum when you were ...
MP: Zero, oh, absolutely nothing. ... I would have, we would have recoiled at that.
MP: I mean, there was absolutely nothing. We put it out, and every night at midnight, we would go down to TA's, Thatcher-Anderson, which was on George Street, about a block in as you ... after the railroad tunnel there was a little block to the left, right before a restaurant that used to be called The Scarlet Room. I don't know if it's still there or not. I doubt it, and it was in this little hole-in-the-wall. ... They did hot press, and it was ETAION SHRDLU, the order of the keys on a hot press linotype machine; ... the way old linotype worked. I remember, once, (Woody?), who was one of the two guys, I forget the other guy's name, Dick, I think, cut his finger off, and ... they put the finger in ice and took him to the hospital. I was there every night at midnight my entire year making sure the paper got to bed; that was part of it, and as I said earlier on, I loved my time at Rutgers. I loved being the editor of Targum. It was in every way the best experience. My teachers were great. I had so many interesting, thoughtful, intelligent friends to talk [to], and we used to talk. We used to talk all night long about politics, and about music, and about the world. I hate, I mean, one of the reasons why, it's very funny, the movie The Big Chill , right? Everyone said, "You must watch that." I hated the movie, because it was kind of like students saying, "Okay, what should we do? Should we storm the dean's office? Should we have pizza? Should we get stoned?" College politics was not like that in the mid-1960s. It was very serious. We knew it was dangerous. We knew the antiwar movement was extremely dangerous, and this was before the Democratic convention of '68, but, clearly it was already in place. We knew the civil rights movement was dangerous. The Schwerner, Goodman, Chaney story had real reverb. So, yes, ... it was serious, but, we loved it. [Editor's Note: Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were murdered by Ku Klux Klan members while working as civil rights volunteers in Mississippi during the summer of 1964. They had been trying to register African-American voters as part of the Mississippi Summer Project.] It was a great time of intellectual ferment. I have no idea if this takes place at Rutgers today. I fear that the Div One [Division 1] fetishism of the sports teams has, some sports teams, has to some extent cut this out. ... Whenever the kids call me from, asking me for money, I tell them, "I'll give you some money, and if you start playing Muhlenberg and Lehigh and Lafayette again, and Princeton and Yale, I'll give you a lot more money," because, even though I'm thrilled that Rutgers is, I think the highest of any state school in the country, [of]any Div One state school, [Rutgers]has the highest graduation rate, and I think next to Rice ... and the military academies and Stanford, the highest rate of any college. That's good, but, they're still, as far as I'm concerned, throwing money into the gutter by doing this. ... I don't need to have Rutgers go to a bowl to say, "We're number one." I went to a great school, with great teachers and great students, and I grieve the fact that ... getting to posture on game day on ESPN has become more important. End of editorial. [laughter]
SH: Thank you.
MP: I hope that makes its way into something.
SH: Back to the atmosphere on campus, in 1962, '63, sports were important then.
MP: Oh, I mean, I used to go to games. I mean, I used to go to the football games.
SH: Was that a real social event?
MP: Yes, I mean, it was kind of fun. It was almost kind of, like, mock serious. We used to get dressed up. We used to wear ties and jackets, and the year before I went, or two years before, they had an excellent team. Alex [Alexander] Kroll was an All-American, I think, maybe, the year before I graduated. He went on to become sort of a well-known Wall Street guy. The football teams were always kind of good in my years. What impressed me was this; there was a guy, I took a course, I made the mistake of doing too well on my French placement test so I wound up in upper class classes. I wish I had been dumb and blown the tests. Anyway, by my sophomore year, I'm taking this class in seventeenth century French drama, Moliere [Jean-Baptiste Poquelin], [Jean] Racine, [Pierre] Corneille, ay yi yi, and the kid next to me is a kid named Paul Strelick, who was the defensive captain, and I thought to myself this [is great], and our teacher had no idea who he was. I mean, he knew his name, "Monsieur Strelick, Monsieur Perlin." He had no idea this guy was a football star, and, he was a defensive back. They look like normal people. I mean, it's not like, you know, seven feet tall, three hundred pounds, and, I thought, "This is great that I go to a school where the guy who is the defensive football captain is taking a class, and all in French, about Racine's plays." I don't think that happens that much anymore. ... So basketball games, so few people used to go to the basketball games, these were in the old gym, that they wouldn't even put the seats down. We would sit upstairs in the balcony, because there would only be a couple hundred people.
MP: ... Now, the guy who was the center on the freshman team was a high school friend of mine, okay. You now see me; you see that if I'm still five ten, that's good, right? I used to play basketball with him in the Quad. I mean, I was not a good player, but, we'd bang each other around, go up for rebounds. Can you imagine the center today playing basketball with me in the Quad for practice? That ain't going to happen, right?
SH: They are separated ...
MP: Totally, yes, exactly, and those were the sports. I know they had a good lacrosse team, but, I never took that very seriously. I never saw a college baseball game in my life, although Jeff [Jeffrey] Torborg, who was a year behind me, went on to be a catcher for the Dodgers. He caught one of Sandy Koufax's no hitters. He was a manager for awhile, so, I sort of feel bad I didn't do that, but, sports was not, except for football, was not that big of a deal. As my time went on, basketball became big because the year behind me, a guy named Bob [Robert E.] Lloyd and Jimmy [James T.] Valvano were in the class, and I liked Jimmy. He was a real, real character and I never knew Bob very well, but, so, basketball became important, and, I guess they made the NIT [National Invitation Tournament], the year after I graduated, and they lost to Southern, check this one out, Southern Illinois [University] when Walt Frazier of the Knicks, "Clyde", a great, great guard, was the captain of Southern Illinois. I think Rutgers lost to them in the NITs. What's a Salukis? That's the Southern Illinois nickname. ... I mean, sports was not over, an overwhelming thing. I mean, if the sports, the jocks belonged to a few of the fraternities, and that was, I guess, Beta, [Theta Pi] DU [Delta Upsilon], Chi Phi. Chi Psi, maybe, I don't know, but, it sort of didn't have anything to do with the rest; they didn't, certainly did not terrorize non-jocks as happens in some schools. There's a Dylan song, "You'll go your way and I'll go mine." It was like that. It was kind of a peaceful accord, but, I loved my classes. Almost all of my teachers were excellent, a couple of duds, but, not, not too many, and I [can]say that, I've been a professor for twenty-six years, and I know some of us are very good, some are okay, and some aren't that good. I was very, very fortunate, and they kept pushing me to learn more, and to study more. I mean, ... I used to go and spend hundreds of hours in the library, and I loved it, I absolutely loved it.
SH: When did you begin to decide about either graduate school, or becoming a lawyer? When do you begin, because you are so successful as the Targum editor ...
MP: Yes, well, I mean, again, that's a good question. I was going to get a PhD in political science, and I decided to go to law school for two reasons: one, Mr. Pomper told me that given the turn in political science then, we have to put this very firmly in time, '65, '66, that the only way people could succeed in political science was if they were math experts, and they could do the election crunching, and I had to do a little of that, in terms of assessing that, but, it was all basically, like, math 101, math 102, and I would probably have to take a year of math courses, and I didn't want to do that. The other thing was, I thought, I never expected to practice law, by the way. I had been working on Capitol Hill, and I thought I would work for a congressional committee, and help write civil rights laws, things like that; never occurred to me I would practice law, and I thought I could change the world a little bit more as a lawyer than I could simply as a historian or a political scientist.
SH: You talked about this job that you had every summer with the congressman; did that change over time? Originally, you said that was just writing press releases.
MP: ... I used to write legislation. By the time I was done, I wrote legislation. I mean, I did really good stuff. ... Yes, he had a very small office, and there's a rule of thumb which I've always told my students, and you should tell yours, too, "The less, least famous your congressman or senator is, the more likely you're going to get to do good work." ... I had friends who worked in Kennedy's office; they never saw him, or even with Clifford Case, or Pete Williams, who were senators from New Jersey, they would meet them at a cocktail party, and that would be it. They would do all their work through the AA [administrative assistant] in the office, but, I used to talk to Ed every day. It was a very small office. It was a, Steven Callas was his press secretary, and there were a couple of regular secretaries, and his wife; that was it. There were, like, four people, so, my work counted, and a lot of it was constituent mail, but ... I did press releases, and I got to write whatever legislation I wanted to; some good stuff, too.
SH: You would also bring this expertise back to Rutgers to the Targum.
MP: Yes, it all made me a better writer, certainly.
SH: Because you said there was no oversight of the paper, were there comments from professors or from the faculty, or administration about the quality of the paper?
MP: I mean, there was a Targum council. There were other students who were theoretically the oversight committee, but, my friend Leo, I think, was chair of it my senior year, but, that certainly didn't interfere with us. Every once in awhile, a teacher would say, "I liked your column yesterday, Michael," but, that was it. No one ever criticized me; unthinkable. I mean, right, if I had made a grammatical error, or done "there" instead of "their," oh, they would have told me that, that's for sure, no way I could have gotten by with that. [laughter]
SH: How did you divide your Targum staff as editor-in-chief.
MP: There was an executive editor, a news editor, a something else editor, and then, senior editors, so, there were seven members of the editorial board, and we had it so that every day somebody would be, one of the senior editors, the high editors, would be staffing the office. We would make the assignments; we would meet together, have editorial meetings a couple times a week, I guess. We would talk about editorial policy, but, it was ... there were no white boards, or power points. We would just sit around and talk. It was very collegial. I can remember virtually no serious policy arguments, whatsoever. Maybe on ... student council, who to endorse for student council office, that would be it. That's what we'd have our fights about.
SH: Were most of them journalism majors?
MP: None were. I never knew a journalism major. They were all of, Larry Klein was an English major, Larry Benjamin was a poli sci major, Steve Herman was a poli sci major, Steve Frakt was, I think, geography major. I can't recall what S. R. Shapiro and Richie Rosenberg were, what their majors were. I never knew a journalism [major]. I never saw anyone in the journalism school. There was no connection at all between the journalism department and Rutgers, and the Targum, none. I have no idea if it's still that way, but, absolutely none, and they were not interested in us. It just was different.
SH: Were any of your staff writing for the Home News Tribune or AP?
MP: Oh, no.
SH: Or AP?
MP: No, no, not that I know, I mean, no.
MP: It was totally self-contained.
SH: Okay, all right.
MP: Larry went on to be, I mean, of our staff, Larry, I think, is the only one that went on to be a newspaperman. ... Larry went to law school, never practiced law, and just retired from The Asbury Park Press after a million years. He's in Toms River or Freehold. He's the RAM [Rutgers Alumni Magazine] correspondent from my class. You can find him if you wanted to connect with him.
SH: We have talked about civil rights, we have talked about politics, elections, Governor Hughes, all that. What were other events that the Targum reported? Did they report on the world events, or was it very self contained?
MP: There was very little world stuff; that did not affect Rutgers directly. We figured people read The New York Times for that, and they can get that. I remember there was a big, what the, it was a three letter acronym, about education, something to do with higher education, a tax, or something. It was going on in Trenton. If I saw it, I would know it immediately, and the girl who was editor of the Douglass Caellian named Carol Rampel; I say girl, obviously a woman, but, she was a girl then like I was a boy.
SH: A woman.
MP: A woman, female person. ... I remember us going to the state house to do something about that. I wish I remembered; ACE? I don't remember, it was some silly word that acronymed out. COE? I don't know, you can find it out though, so, that was state politics that affected Rutgers. Or if they were building a new building on campus, would it, like, displace poor people? Something like that. So, the politics that we wrote about, with the exception, and, of course, civil rights and Vietnam affected everybody, but, we did not, if there was an article about, if [Charles] de Gaulle died, we would not have run that as an article.
SH: Underneath all of this ...
MP: I have no idea when de Gaulle died, parenthetically. [laughter] Go on ...
SH: But, underneath all of this, all of you were eligible for the draft.
MP: Not while we were in college. ... We had a deferment through college.
SH: But, I mean, as soon as ...
MP: I went to graduate school, and one year I, it was by the lottery number, and one year I was three numbers away. It went to 214; I was 217. I got out of law school, I clerked for judges for two years, which was also deferrable, and by then, it was 1971, and it was kind of fading away a little bit.
SH: Okay. Did anyone say, "All right, they are eventually going to get me, so I'm going to go ahead and enlist," or did everybody ...
MP: None of my friends. I mean, I have had, incredibly, very, very, very, very, very few friends who were ever in the service. In my adult life I've had, maybe, two or three. I have one guy, that I'm friends with now, on a lawyer's forum, Lieutenant Dan did fighter missions, and he was a Marine, he graduated Rutgers law school, in Vietnam, but, I only had two other friends who served in Vietnam, neither of whom has ever said a word to me about it.
SH: What kind of demonstrations, or were there demonstrations on campus?
MP: The demonstrations that I recall were not on campus, but, when I went to law school at Columbia, they were in New York, and in Washington. I cannot remember significant marches or protests on campus, until my senior year, and they were always pretty modest. They were very self-contained, and I doubt if they were ever covered.
SH: Being part of the New Brunswick campus, how aware were you of the Newark campus, or the Camden campus?
MP: Interesting, I told one of my colleagues, a guy who is one of the adjunct professors in my online program who I've known, I hired him in the Trenton, in the Public Advocate's Office in 1974; we've stayed friends ever since, and Rick said to me, "Make sure you tell her there was stuff going on at Rutgers Newark then, too," so, Rick Friedman says, "Talk about Rutgers Newark." It was different. It was a different world. There was absolutely zero connection between the campuses. There was probably some snobbery on the part of the New Brunswick at that time, too, no question about it, but, it was just a different world.
SH: Using that key word there, what about the other colleges at Rutgers? What about the Agricultural School? What about engineering?
MP: ... Well, there was the Ag School, I mean, the Ag School was always seen as sort of separate. I mean, first of all, most of us had never known a farmer until we got there and these guys, and it seemed to me that there were two groups of people in the Ag School. There were the kids who were going to become farmers, and there were some of the football players who they found some courses to take, because there were clearly were some football players whose GPA, SATs were below par, and that's how they kind of kept them, kept them going. I mean, I used to see these guys in the dorm, and they would go off to their classes, but, we had socially, very little in common. I mean, they didn't listen to the same music, didn't have the same, read the same magazines, go out with the same girls. It was a different world.
SH: University College and Livingston College?
MP: Livingston College didn't exist yet.
SH: Oh, you are right, excuse me.
MP: Yes, and what was University College? Was that, that was ...
SH: That was mostly for people who ...
MP: That was, like, older students. No, if it existed, it had nothing to do with us.
MP: We were totally insulated, Rutgers Arts and Sciences, and Douglass, obviously, but, even, I mean, everything was very [separate], the school did a, I think, a bad job, and maybe I can't fault them for it. Even the kids who were bio-scis [majored in biological sciences or pre-med], they were in, they took freshman English, and freshman and sophomore language, and that was it. Never saw them again afterwards. By the time, I maybe had one or two friends who were not history, poli sci, English, American Study majors. ... Because, the other guys, they were just, they were taking all their classes on the other side of the river, in Piscataway, and they were discouraged, I think, from taking these other courses because it wouldn't help them in med school.
SH: Talk about the physical makeup of Rutgers at that time, College Avenue, obviously. Was there a bus system?
MP: No, no bus system. There might have been a bus system to get to Piscataway for the football games. Though I remember walking across, there might have been a bus, but, I don't think there were. ... There must have been buses to go back and forth to the chem labs, and stuff. I don't remember.
SH: Do you remember any new buildings going up?
MP: Oh, sure. I mean ... Brett [Hall], Mettler [Hall], Clothier [Hall]; those had just gone up the year I started. They were all new then. The Piscataway campus was going [up], was building [up], but, the river dorms were still relatively new, back then. There was always construction. It was mud. I remember, I used to wear tan chinos all the time; they would be caked in mud up to my thigh. There was always construction. Everything was always being dug.
SH: Was there a student center?
MP: The Ledge.
SH: The Ledge.
MP: The Ledge, and that's what ... that was the student center of my life. I see it in front of me so clearly, walking in, and just to the left, was where the coffee and the juke box [were], and then, downstairs was kind of, you know, where we would hear music, things of that sort. I spent a lot of time there; drank a lot of coffee there. [laughter] My freshman year, my parents dropped me off. I told you, I had spent only one night away from home, and I had no idea where [to reach them]. I didn't even know their phone number, because they didn't know it. They were moving to Northern Virginia, and I was standing outside of my dorm feeling really, really despondent, and I saw this kid from my high school class, and his father was a friend of my dad's, and he is ... Eddie Liston ... I wound up rooming with him second year, and Ed, Sr. said to me, "Michael," and he knew exactly what was going on, he said, I forgot his wife's name, and "Ed, and Peggy," the sister, "and I are going over to the Ledge for a cup of coffee. Do you want to join us?" The nicest thing that's ever happened, and I was never homesick after that. One hour of homesickness, that was it. [laughter]
SH: That's pretty good. ... With the changes in the physical make up of the campus, or other changes on campus, political turmoil, and the music tastes, did you ever make requests for music programs for WRSU?
MP: What do you mean?
SH: Did you ever say, "We need more of this," or, "Have you tried this?"
MP: Oh, that's really, that's a great question. I don't think so. I mean, WRSU, I mean, I used to listen to it, but, I listened to ABC, and this was before FM existed, right? I listened to ABC 77 for rock and roll, and there was a great jazz station in New York at that time, WADO, 1260 , which was, I used to go to sleep in high school listening to a guy named "Symphony Sid Torin." His show was on from midnight until six in the morning, and I used to listen to that for my jazz fix. Classical, I used to play my records. I guess we got WQXR AM, but, I don't remember that very, very well. I used to go to classical performances. I mean, Julius Rudel, who was ... one of the directors, one of the impresarios at the City Opera, also was at Rutgers. So, we got great concerts when [I was there]. What the hell is his name? The Russian pianist, who had disappeared, Vladimir Horowitz, came to America. The second concert he played after his thirty years away was at Rutgers, was at the gym. I remember that very clearly.
SH: Did you go into New York often?
MP: I did, not that often. I used to go every once in awhile for a, quote, "big date" to go to a show. I used to go in for ball games occasionally. I used to go in to hear jazz. I used to go to the Vanguard, I used to go to the Five Spot, the Half Note, things of that sort, but, I mean, I used to take the bus rather than the train mostly, I guess. My senior year I, for awhile I had a job, oh, this was mind numbing, I worked for the Tri-State Transportation. This was after I was done with Targum, so, I had time to kill, I worked for the Tri-State Transportation Authority for a week, and I had to take the train from New Brunswick to New York and back, and I used to give people surveys to fill out. That was one week, and that was enough for me. Little did I know I was going to be commuting for twenty-six years. There was also a adult bookstore on George Street and that I worked at for a week, and, then they told me I had to take the cash, because of course it was a cash only thing, and deposit it at a bank, down the middle of George Street on, late Friday night. That really kind of spooked me out, so, one week there, that was it.
SH: Talk about downtown New Brunswick.
MP: I also say I worked for the registrar's office. I used to come back a week early in September to do registration, make money, and so, I got paid well, and that was my spending money for the semester. Downtown New Brunswick; I grew up in Perth Amboy. It was the same thing, it was a bunch of old stores. Everything was kind of a little step away from falling apart. I mean, I used to walk across from Rutgers to Douglass all the time, never felt any fear. Maybe that was stupid of me, I don't know. I once hitchhiked a ride, and the guy told me he had a gun in his glove compartment, and that he had just gotten out of prison, but, I mean, I don't know if he was BS-ing. I don't know.
SH: To see if your hair ...
MP: Exactly, yes.
SH: Would stand up, or something. [laughter] Was there any friction between townies and gownies?
MP: There probably was, but, I never saw it. I mean, I wasn't much of a drinker, so, I never got involved in the bars. My aunt and uncle lived on Livingston Avenue. My uncle owned a restaurant called MALS on Route 27, just at the New Brunswick/Somerset border, and I used to go there for dinner; not my first year. I didn't go at all my freshman year, because I wanted to be kind of away. Starting my sophomore year, I went for dinner once a week, and I used to bring some friends, occasionally, and that was kind of [nice]. ... So, I would go from [campus], and sometimes I would walk, but, sometimes they would pick me up, and that was on Livingston about, oh, probably a mile off of George Street. You can figure out where 350 was, is, and that was actually my only time in New Brunswick other than doing my shopping, going to the bank, whatever, dry cleaner, stuff like that.
SH: Because your parents had moved, you weren't mailing laundry home.
MP: No, I went ... there was a great laundry, Georgie Chu, on the little block right by the train station. What was the name of the street ... just as you come out of the train station? Not when you're facing the bookstore, when you come out on the other side? You know, the train station is on the corner.
SH: Is it French?
MP: Maybe French Street. There was like a one block, and it's gone. I used to go there. That's where I used to do my dry cleaning.
SH: Okay, just little ...
MP: Factoids I remember, right.
SH: You talked about deciding that you were going to go to law school, and that you weren't going to practice law. Did you apply to any other schools besides Columbia, and why Columbia?
MP: I applied to Rutgers, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, and Yale. I was accepted to Rutgers, Columbia, and Georgetown. I'm still on the waiting list at Harvard. I would figure after forty-five years it's time for them to make their mind up. Yale rejected me within forty-eight hours, which is kind of funny, and the reason that your eyebrows went up, was because they'd already accepted one person from Rutgers. One of the interesting, whatever the opposite of affirmative action is, "defirmative" action, things that no one knows about is how all the Ivy League law schools had numbers for colleges. To Yale, Rutgers was a one; they took their kid, so anyone else would get rejected, no matter what he looked like. Rutgers, there were [four at] Columbia; we always had four kids at[from] Rutgers, always four, not three, not five, always four, until after awhile, we all did well, then it went up to eight, and, [it was]clearly done by [the numbers]; every school did it the same way. Why did I [chose Columbia]? ... I wanted to, I mean, it was a question [of where I wanted to live.] ... Rutgers Law School, I did not want to stay in New Jersey. I wanted to go somewhere else, and [it was] between Georgetown and, in Washington, and going to Columbia, in New York. I had spent six summers, or whatever, in Washington. Though I liked Washington very much, and ... my son lives there now and I love it for him, I decided it was a good time for me to go move on the Upper West Side, and I did. I hated law school.
SH: Was there any anti-Semitism at Rutgers?
MP: Oh, I mean, if I had wanted to go to one of the Gentile-only fraternities, there probably would have been. I mean, I remember once going into one of the fraternity houses, one of these guys was going to give me a ride home to Washington, and waiting in the anteroom and feeling incredibly uncomfortable, like I really didn't belong there, but, it was like a one-off, you know. It was just, I was just waiting for [my ride], oh, no, no, I was just, I really felt, "Boy, you are out of place." ... I never felt it, certainly never felt it in class, never felt it from any student who I spoke to personally, never felt it from any of the girls at Douglass, no.
SH: And none of the administration.
MP: No, not at all. I have no idea how people who were observant might have felt. I have no idea what accommodations were, or were not made for them.
MP: They might have other stories to tell.
SH: Fair enough. You were going to talk a bit about the times that you were in Washington, and the civil rights demonstrations, and leaping out in front of the car. What else were you involved in?
MP: I was involved with a group, I can't remember the acronym, but it was a, housing suburbs, blah, blah, Virginia; it spelled out a fancy word. ... Some of the houses were even, because Virginia was two worlds then; it was like the ten miles around Washington, and, the rest of the state. ... I remember our going a little bit further than those ten miles, and doing some picketing with some group. ... I used to, it's very funny, ... DC was so different, and this is, of course, pre-riots DC, as well, but, I told you I went to the Monterey Jazz Festival last night, and somebody mentioned John Coltrane. I saw Coltrane four times in August of 1963 at a club called Bohemian Caverns on 14th [Street] and U [Street], which then became an area that was extremely dangerous and drug ridden, and now it's become yuppified. ... But I used to go all over DC, and I didn't have a car, so, I used to go all over DC on public transportation, I mean, northeast, Anacostia, it didn't matter. I was always kind of oblivious to [it], I mean, I knew it was there, but ... I was always comfortable, but, to answer your question, at Rutgers, I mean, we knew this, this civil rights thing was happening. We knew the North was not blameless, but, we also knew what was going on in the South; "Bull" Connor, the [Sixteenth Street Baptist] Church in Alabama, was really beyond horror, and we took it very, very seriously. [Editor's Note: Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor, a politician in Birmingham, Alabama, ordered Birmingham police officers and firemen to use dogs and high-pressure water hoses against demonstrators rallying against racial segregation in the city in 1963. During that same year, Ku Klux Klan members planted dynamite in the Birmingham Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which had been a gathering place for civil rights activities. The resulting explosion killed four young girls and injured twenty-two others.]
SH: The reactions to the assassination of Martin Luther King.
MP: Oh, I was in law school then. [Editor's Note: Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.] Oh, my God, you want to hear something weird? On the day of the assassination of King, I was home for spring vacation, and I had no idea ... what was going on, but, I was at the movies, before the assassination, and I saw Bonnie and Clyde. So, in Bonnie and Clyde, it was a very, very, violent movie, you hear all these guns going off, and sometimes it sounded like the soundtrack was off. I came out of the theater, and Washington was aflame. This was the day of the assassination. I walked home.
SH: So, you were in Washington then.
MP: I walked home, and I don't know how well you know Washington, from about 15th and L, to my parents' house in Arlington. I walked over the 14th Street Bridge, bod-da-bing. It was incomprehensible to me.
SH: But, there were riots ...
MP: Yes, the riots were going on.
MP: That's what I mean.
SH: That's what I meant, and you walked through this?
MP: Yes, not as smart as I look, right, yes. [laughter]
SH: You are in ...
MP: Law school.
SH: Law school in Columbia, then, when Newark goes up.
MP: Now, Newark went up, I thought ...
MP: '69, I graduated. No, no, did Newark go up in '69 or in '70? I don't really know. I'm now confused, because I took the bar [examination] in Newark in the summer of '69, and that was, there was, nothing was happening then, but, when I worked, I'm trying to think now, because the riots in Plainfield were in '69 or '70. I thought the riots in Newark, the big riots were in '70, but, you might be right.
SH: I may be mistaken. I have to check. [Editor's note: The riots in Newark, New Jersey took place in 1967. The riots in Plainfield, New Jersey also took place during 1967.]
MP: Yes, but, clearly ... the line from "Ballad of a Thin Man"-- "Something's [is] happening [here] and [but] you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?" I mean, something was happening. We sort of had a vague idea what it was, and, of course, I was in Columbia during the period of time that the buildings were taken over, like that, and that was also significant. ... [Editor's Note: Beginning in April 1968, Columbia University protests broke out over plans for the construction of a supposedly segregated gym in Morningside Park, and the exposure of links between the university and institutions supporting United States involvement in the Vietnam War. Several university buildings were occupied by students, many of whom were forcibly removed by the New York City Police Department.]
SH: What did you do when that ...
MP: I was a law student. ... I was working on helping set up bail. This is a great story, I think. I go down the morning afterwards to the courthouse, because I knew a lot of kids had been arrested, and, someone says to me, "There is somebody who is willing to put up bail money, but, we need someone to go to get the money." I said, "I'll go." So, I go. I take the subway to around, it was around Washington Square, and I go up, and I'm in the home of Herschel Bernardi, he was a famous actor, and I'm with a friend of mine, and we go into his townhouse, and there was, like, a million people around, and he gives me a brown paper bag, and he says, "We did a collection last night. Here's some money," and it was about twenty thousand dollars in cash. [laughter] Wait, it gets worse. So, what do I do? Do I take a taxi down to the courthouse? No, I take the subway. I am on a New York City subway with a brown bag, with twenty thousand dollars in cash, and I give it to whoever's coordinating it, that was my, that was my role. [laughter] That was my role. Okay, so, this is the summer of 1968, and I'm working for Congressman Patten, and I've got a lot of friends in DC, and there's a party. There were always a lot of parties, and there's this new girl in town, and, who had just come down, and she was a junior at Barnard [College], to work at the museum of, the art museum, the National Gallery [of Art], and I was just feeling pretty much full of myself because I had just won this really difficult baseball trivia contest, so, [laughter] I introduced myself to her. I had a flower behind my ear, if you can imagine that, and then, I saw her the next couple weeks, and I asked her out, and we've been together ever since. ... Her name is Linda Mason Perlin, born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, went to Barnard, graduated '70, and then, she went to Rutgers. She taught for several years, and then, went back to get an MSW, masters in social work, and I think she was Class of '77, so, we're a double Rutgers family here. ... We've been married, it will be forty years, God willing, in November.
MP: Thank you. Julie, our daughter, is twenty-nine, two days ago, is getting her PhD in developmental biology at Stanford, and, she has been out there for five years. ... Alex, our son, who is twenty-six. I mean, Julie was twenty-nine, today. Alex was twenty-six, two days ago. I do know that. [laughter] ... [He] graduated American Uni[versity] Law School in December, and is taking the bar, both of New Jersey and New York, next week. .. It's interesting, his job interests are doing the kind of work that is not unlike what I did, correctional law, representing juveniles, representing people in jails and prisons, things like that. He's worked for the Innocence Project for the DC Prisoners' Rights Project, so, his hearts in the same place, which is a nice thing.
SH: Wonderful. Before we started the interview, you were telling me what you were involved in now. Would you like to talk a little bit about that?
MP: I'm happy to. I practiced law for thirteen years; I spent three years as chief public defender in Trenton, New Jersey; I spent eight years as director of New Jersey's Division of Mental Health Advocacy, and two years as special counsel to the New Jersey Public Advocate, so, I was always on the public sector. I've been teaching at New York Law School since 1984, and I wear several hats. I am director of our online, distance learning, mental disability law program, in which we now offer twelve different courses and a masters degree, both to our students and to students all over the world. ... I'm also director of the International Mental Disability Law Reform Project in our law school's Justice Action Center, and, wearing this hat, I'm just back from Hong Kong, and pretty much on my way to Korea, working with my colleague Yoshi [Yoshikazu] Ikehara, who's head of the Tokyo Advocacy Law Office, to try to create a disability rights tribunal for Asia and the Pacific, and, if I do this, it'll be the single most significant accomplishment of my professional career. I have worked on every continent, except Antarctica, penguins still have not asked for my services, but, who knows, maybe someday, [laughter] and I love it. I write a lot. I've written twenty books. I have contracts for ten more, aard, and probably, all in all, have published over two hundred articles. Mostly, although recently one on Dylan [is]in a new journal called Montague Street about how Oh Mercy, from 1989, was his cusp album. PDFs of that are available to anyone who cares. [laughter] But, mostly it's about mental disability, law, [or] both, mostly in terms of criminal procedure, criminal law, but, a lot in terms of civil law, and a lot on the international questions.
SH: What do you do for fun?
MP: Oh, my, music, clearly. We went to this jazz concert last night. Friday night we're actually supposed to go into the city to the Bowery Ballroom to see Corey Chisel. We may not do that because of some logistics, but, Linda tells me that there's a singer/songwriter, in our neighborhood, who's playing in Bordentown, so, if I get home from work early on Friday, we're going to go do that. I don't fish nearly as much as I used to, but, as I say, when, on the two weeks that we're in Cape Cod, I do it every day. ... We go to Oregon in the summer, also. We start out with the Portland Blues Festival for a few days, and, then, we go through central Oregon, and I always find some fishing to do wherever we are, through Sisters, Bend, and then, we go to Ashland for the [Oregon] Shakespeare Festival, which is kind of fun, so, we do that. I travel, obviously, a lot, although lately, I have not had that extra, sort of, quote "luxury day" to give myself a tour. Although in Hong Kong I did, and if ... anybody wants to "friend" me on Facebook, they'll see pictures of me at the world's largest outdoor Buddha. We went to a, walked around a Buddhist monastery in a driving rainstorm; that was really, really mystical. I used to be a stamp collector. I don't do that anymore. I still have my stamps, but, that was always fun. I read, I read, I read, I read; if God gives me a two hour commute each way to New York, I got to make good use of it, and my dumb TV relaxation are all the "C" shows: Cold Case, the three CSIs [Crime Scene Investigation], and Criminal Minds. [laughter] And there's always ESPN, dat-dat-dat. Sorry. [Editor's Note: Mr. Perlin imitates the music clip played by ESPN [Entertainment and Sports Programming Network] in between segments on the network.]
MP: Politics; when I met my wife, she said the only thing she wanted me to promise was that I would never run for office, and I have done that. I was thrilled to see [President Barack] Obama win last year. ... My wife is friends with a woman named Robin Wells, who is Paul Krugman's wife, and, so, I watched Obama clinch it, in a party at Paul Krugman's home, which is really quite amazing. He's quite a guy. [Editor's Note: Paul Krugman is a noted American economist and the recipient of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize in Economics.] I'm not involved, and I make my contributions, but, I'm not involved in politics now.
SH: Have you stayed involved with Rutgers?
MP: Not that much, and I say that, as you can sense, with some regret. I've gone to Rutgers a few times. I did a couple of programs on behalf of my law school. I was actually there in November, the end of November, for a very interesting program. I don't know if you know a woman named Shirley Smoyak, who is involved with the continuing ed[ucation] program? She's a nursing professor. One of my big cases in New Jersey, when I was state mental health advocate, was a case called Doe versus Klein, in which we sued Greystone Hospital, and the conditions there, and there was a monitoring committee created in the late '70s, which was just dissolved after over thirty years. ... This was a retrospective conference on what's happened. So, I was at Rutgers speaking in November, and it was very, it was real, as Yogi Berra said, "[It's like] déjà vu all over again," going back to Rutgers, and ... of course, the conference center was not there then, and that was kind of something. I've never, no one has ever kind of reached out to me, to tell you the truth, and I've always kind of, if they did, I would certainly be happy to do things. Again, I really am irritated at the decision to put so much of the focus on sports. I think that was an entirely, and I say this as someone who is a sports fanatic, I think it was just a terrible, terrible error, and, on every level. When I talked to my Rutgers students that I teach, and they tell me there are four hundred and six hundred in their classes, I tell them, "I had Eugene Genovese for a class, which I was one; I was the only student. I had another class, which there was only one other student, because it was a seminar in historiography. I think Lloyd Gardener was the teacher, two students. In most of my upper class electives, I had twenty, twenty-five people." ... I was so glad you called in response to my questionnaire, because a lot of this, I've told these stories over the years to some friends, and things, and posted little bits online on some of the forums I'm on, but, I've never spoken like this, and it's really been something. The fact that you started asking these questions about Perth Amboy, because so clearly, it's all connected, my childhood, going to college, what happened there, and my career; it's, it may not be a straight line, but, there's not that many curves. The experience with the teach-in was really a transformative experience to me. First of all, being part of it, the whole world is watching, but, then, what happened, the aftermath and the election, and seeing how the impact, that what somebody says, can have on a state's politics, and then, this whole thing with the FBI guys, and like what happened to me, is like, people, I wouldn't believe it, if someone had told me, but, it stayed with me, and we were right. I mean ... after all these years, the war was a mistake. I mean, those Americans and God knows how many Vietnamese died for absolutely no reason at all. It was a tragedy in our hubris, and [Robert] McNamara might have confessed error before he died, but it was a little bit too, a little too late, as far as I'm concerned, and ... it's a lesson that we do not seem to have learned very well. [Editor's Note: Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) served as the United States Secretary of Defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from January 1961 to February 1968.] I'm very proud of what I did, and again, those were the best, in a lot of ways, I mean, of course, I wasn't married [and] I didn't have my children, the best things in the world, but, if you sort of take those four years and put them together, day for day, they were the best years of my life.
SH: I thank you so much for agreeing to talk with us, and I look forward to talking to you again soon. Thank you.
MP: My pleasure, thank you.
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Reviewed by Jessica Ondusko 6/30/10
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 7/14/10
Reviewed by Michael Perlin 2/28/11