I come from Wood River, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
My father came from Budapest and was research director of a Shell Oil research laboratory.
He accumulated 76 patents and spoke many languages. My mother came from Silesia, in what used to be Germany, and first worked as an Au Pair in suburban New York. I was the youngest of three boys, and the only one smiling in our group pictures.
We moved to Niagara Falls New York when I was in first grade and my father built a laboratory in the basement to do his consulting work. Looking out my window across the Niagara River, I could see Canada. Just before I was 15, I traveled alone by sea to Germany to see my mother’s relatives and cycled from Switzerland to Bavaria and then up to the North Sea.
As soon as I got home, we moved to Belmont, Massachusetts where I cut the grass for Zbiginiew Breshinski. The John Birch Society world headquarters was a few blocks down our street. My new high school was straight out of the Archie comic books full of ambitious conformists. I got off to a bad start in my speech of self introduction by mentioning that I had wandered onto a nudist beach at the North Sea. Our first year there was a trial of loneliness. My family were convinced Republicans and my brothers and I attended the Lutheran Church and I enjoyed Scouting and then the Sea Scouts. My ambitions were to be a forest ranger or missionary. My teachers wrung their hands that my school grades were rarely above C although I had been placed in a class for gifted children that accepted about one in a thousand. While I could read college books when I was ten, I got the idea that I was stupid since everyone else in the family seemed brighter than I was. Although I failed math, one brother was president of the math club and the other took extra math courses in summer for fun. My father mastered the slide rule in less than 60 seconds.
In the last weeks of high school I started to join the Air Force since 5 colleges had rejected me.
The University of Colorado wanted geographic diversity in their student body, so my address near Boston got me in. I studied political science, and Russian and joined the ROTC since I thought it would be fun to be a spy or a journalist. After joining the Young People’s Socialist League, (YPSL), and the student peace movement, I dropped out of ROTC. I listened to a presentation by the Mormons in May of 1961 and immediately abandoned the Young Lutherans and wanted to pick a fight with anyone who went to church. A real worker loosened my front teeth when I drunkenly sneered that most employees vote against their class interests. Twenty four years later former classmates could only remember my drunken escapades. It was not easy to get high on 3 point 2 beer but I managed magnificently. Just before my senior year, I married my high school girlfriend and went from academic probation to the Dean’s List for Academic Achievement.
Returning to Belmont was a wretched shock. Companies had competed for the privilege of hiring my oldest brother from M.I.T. but not for me with a political science degree. I got a job in a ladder factory, in a meat packing plant, sold shoes, and finally changed my name to English “Fox” and got a unionized job in a car parts warehouse which gives me a common bond with Arthur Miller.
I could hardly stand after spending the day filling orders on a concrete floor and marveled that anybody in the working class ever had time or energy to do anything but work and sleep. My wife worried about my inability to keep a job and moved down the hall.
The University of Rhode Island rescued me and made me a teaching assistant which I saw as the first step to becoming a full professor and liberating the next generation from their Republican parents. I had voted for Lyndon Johnson as the peace alternative to Barry Goldwater. After Johnson went full throttle on the Vietnam War 4 months later, I expressed my outrage in my thesis “War as an Election Issue.” Before I finished my thesis, I started teaching at new windowless high school in the wilds of northwest Rhode Island. I had taken part in anti-war protests and fitfully tried to maintain my connection with YPSL but my previous membership in the Lutheran Church scotched my efforts to be a conscientious objector. The interviewing officer also said that I smiled too much, unlike the usual Jehovah Witnesses. My wife urged me to go to jail but I took a bus to Toronto which caused my ailing father to weep. One brother effortlessly got a deferment for his defense related work, and the other joined the U.S. Navy where he volunteered 4 times for combat in Vietnam only to be rejected each time.
My nearly completed M.A in American Government did not catapult me into meaningful employment in Academia or anywhere else in Canada. I fished off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, and did temporary labor jobs in Toronto for a year until I cut off my beard, and was immediately rewarded. The C.B.C. Let me patrol their scattered facilities at night and much later offered me an announcer’s job. A new girlfriend moved into my modern apartment close to the university. Then the village of Durham hired me to teach geography at a school that was slated for closure. The students never agreed with my Summerhill School of liberation philosophy. After another winter of selling shoes, and driving cab, I went to British Columbia with my new wife to start a career as a radio announcer.
That was supposed to lead to television, and then to parliament. I got so deeply involved in the election of the first New Democratic Party (social democrat) government of B.C. in 1972 that within 6 months I was out of radio and working as the Vancouver Island organizer for the party. One of our activists became my next wife and secretary to our provincial member of parliament. I worked in elections in Manitoba and Alberta but was no longer welcome in the private sector or broadcasting. The Fraser Valley East constituency hired me as their paid campaign organizer because of my abrasive personality, believing I could irritate or motivate people to get things done. While working on a government ferry, I campaigned to win the nomination to be my party’s candidate for the next federal election. I stopped drinking for an entire year, but it was too late to repair my reputation. I came 5th out of 6 would be candidates. The winner went to parliament and I went into a swamp of self pity.
I made a feeble effort to get a doctorate and then finally got my dream job at C.B.C which lasted an entire summer until I artlessly confessed to the boss that I was not happy living alone in Prince Rupert where 11 feet of rain a year is normal. Feeling as low as one can after an unwise love affair, I went home in despair and started a short career as a country-folk singer in tiny bars in the hinterland.
A psychic advised me to teach English in Japan where a job was waiting in Yokohama. The culture shock was beyond anything I could imagine. I worked soberly until I ran out of anti-depressant pills and then comforted myself with oceans of beer, available around the clock from vending machines on the street.
Back on Vancouver Island I was persona non grata in the NDP so I filled in the next 7 years with the Big Time Music Magazine, the Aristocratic Music Store, and selling vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias. When the store sank in debt, I planted trees in north central B.C and then tuned pianos on the Queen Charlotte Islands. When I was desperate for money, I gritted my teeth and went back to Japan. Members of the Jo Rei religion accosted me at a shopping center in northwestern Japan. They gave me illumination with a prayerful wave of a hand, and “the peace the passes understanding.” That life changing moment put an end to my Marxist materialism. I saw the light.
In 1990 I saw an article in Time Magazine that East Europe wanted English teachers.
I had toured East Europe and Russia with my third wife, Betty, and had vowed never to set foot in another communist country. Now that the Berlin Wall was down, I decided to give it a try for a year. Betty said she would wait and see if I got fired again. I loved teaching English at a forestry college in Hungary and stayed past the compulsory retirement age. Between teaching and selling encyclopedias, I got a PhD in International Relations from the University of Vienna, about an hour away from my new home in Hungary. Some students on a train from Budapest wanted to convert me to Christianity. Instead of overpowering them with my verbal skills, I read their book and headed back to the Lutheran Church.
I married a musical friend in Hungary and had a son, Maximilian in 1996, who is translating and interpreting, taking advantage of growing up in a home where we cannot agree on what language to speak.
I wrote Heaven is Being Here Now while playing hooky from selling vacuum cleaners. “Failing at careers and marriage, Helmut von Kampen starts a New Age church in British Columbia to cash in on the spiritual disorientation of the West Coast. He attracts masses of discontent people but the organization grows out of his control.” The original version was full of profanity in his silent inner monologue to contrast with his swarmy New Age bromides. Before the internet existed, I sent it by mail to about 200 publishers in 4 counties. Just around the time Max was born, I wrote Treasure the Moment about another drifter who becomes a Christian. I was glad that the first book had not aided the cause of atheism, but I still thought it was worth publishing because there are not a lot of stories set on Vancouver Island and naturally I have a fond feeling for my literary offspring. A man from Wood River who had been a kindergarten classmate of my oldest brother told me about SMASHWORDS and my works were accepted. They include Treasure the Moment, Soapy Cleans Up: a Case Study in the Functioning of Capitalism in the Canadian Hinterland, two plays: The Man Who Wanted to Come to Dinner, and The Case of the Broken Heart. There is also a musical for children, Little Red Riding Hood
The last act of my political career was to serve as a candidate for the Green Party on the Ontario election of 2003.
One of my “coolest” jobs was working as an art model in Vienna, Dresden, Toronto, Courtenay, BC and Sopron, Hungary. When students asked me how to get a job I wrote a motivational speech which is preserved on the internet HERE.
Cycling is more than a hobby since I stopped driving cars in 2003.
Besides choral singing, I played the sousaphone in a marching band, viola in string quartets, piano since 1949, and I started the flute in 2010.
I made videos of friends performing my compositions and my son put them on YouTube, see an example of our antics below:
You can find me online at:
And my books at: