He was from the streets of Queens, New York. He was born into a poor family and lived a hardscrabble life from day one. He became somewhat of a street tough. Yet he developed into a quiet man but would speak his mind when necessary. Growing up he was exposed to the anarchists, socialists, and reformers of the radical left of New York. It radicalized his thinking. As a young man searching for religion he attended the New York Ethical Society founded by Felix Adler. Adler was a German American professor of political and social ethics who sought to create a religion centered on ethics and not theology. The members were to live lives committed to personal ethical development with others, and work with the community to create social justice, and be environmental stewards. His experience with the Ethical Society would for the rest of his life encourage in him an atheism that sought a community to practice and promote his social concerns.
He joined the Navy because he did not know of any other way to escape the poverty in which he found himself. Because he scored so high on his aptitude test they trained him as a mechanical engineer. He would never be officer material because of his beliefs and outspokenness. But when WWII started he was on a ship doing maintenance. The War exasperated his mental health. He would be discharged after the war because of the onset of a disability.
He gradually learned how to live with his mental illness (back then it would have been called a nervous condition). But one of the symptoms would be a life of obsessive thinking. He would get an idea and would not let go of it for months and years. And because of his radical upbringing his obsessions could appear strange. Conspiracy theories and the books that explained them became his religion. He touted them in every way and every time he could.
He met the love of his life at a Unitarian church. She was as wonderfully peculiar as he. She had been married once before but it was a disaster. Her first husband physically abused her. Yet she kept her spunk and eventually left him in an age people did not do this. Victor had long ago decided that because of his mental disability he would never find a partner. So it was with a surprised joy they found each other.
She had similar ways. She dressed in old and second-hand clothes, never buying new ones. Quoted poetry to express her feelings. She loved gardening and was constantly offering up the ragged cuttings of a plant from the woods near their house to any taker. She always could be found picking up trash around the church, her home, or a building where she was attending a meeting. She was a founding member of the local Unitarian Universalist Church.
His dress corresponded to hers. He wore old polyester shirts or green coveralls with duct-taped glasses. He became an active member of her church, attending every time the door opened. When he inherited $100,000 dollars he gave it to the Unitarian Church. It was the biggest one-time gift the church ever had. The money was used to assist different social action programs in and out of the church. It helped the church gain recognition in the community for their civic involvement. It was a remarkable gift considering he and his wife were living on fixed incomes. But Victor’s religion left him no choice but to be generous. He never hesitated to help someone who was less fortunate than he, especially if he knew them.
Together they could be found at almost any peace or protest rally. They attended meetings of Amnesty International, Troy Davis (a man on death row), the first monument to the African Americans in the city, G8 summit protest, Gulf and Iraq war protest planning meetings. They had causes that filled their lives and they became fixtures for every progressive cause around. Everyone thought they were crazy but loved their eccentricities.
When the Iraq War and the Patriotic Act came into being his obsessiveness became severe. He would stand up in church and proclaim that our nation was lying to us about the weapons of mass destruction and spying on us in ways it had never done before. Sometimes he used a ‘deception’ dollar to make his point. The dollar looked like monopoly money, in its center was a picture of President George W. Bush. He would use it to explain why Bush was responsible for 911. He suggested the American government had staged 911 and constantly encouraged people to read the book Crossing the Rubicon. His persistent rantings upset the leadership of the congregation. They thought these were not appropriate topics for Joys and Concerns, a time in the church service when people shared about the different things they did and what was on their mind. He replied he was very concerned about the War and the Patriotic Act and other things he felt the government was doing. The controversy heated up and the church took a straw poll on whether he could share these concerns during the services. The vote was a tentative yes. Undeterred he continued ruffling feathers left and right with his statements. He was going insane they said. He was out of control they proclaimed. The elders and the board begin to manipulate and control the all-important Joys and Concerns time. They only allowed a certain amount of time to speak and only a certain number of joys and concerns could be made; the leader of the service would choose who could speak. So he began to use the announcement times to talk about local protest opportunities. The Board decided to only allow announcements about the church’s activities and even these announcements had to be pre-approved. He demanded they vote to see if his pronouncements could be allowed. The Board, having lost two straw votes, were not in a mood for that. He went with the Board chair and another Board representative to an outside mediation center to come to some resolution. The resolution went his way but the Board refused to act on it. The Board talked about voting him out as a member.
After all they assured everyone he was on the verge of some great violent act.
When his wife came in with a bruise they whispered that he, after twenty years of marriage, had decided to start beating her. He never lifted a finger to anyone. He once cussed at the Board chair for lying; this was his greatest offense. When the Board would not follow the agreed-on mediation terms, he created a stir by interrupting a church retreat to present copies of the agreement to everyone. Infuriated, some of the church board members bodily threatened him. He finished handing out the agreement and asked for a vote on his proclamations. For his efforts the Board would vote him out of the church using a new disruptive behavior policy they had developed. When asked if there would be some way for him to regain his membership, they said no. He went away quietly; he always respected the votes of the people. He was only asking them to allow the people to vote for the new policies and he would honor that vote. Yet he came to see that was never going to be allowed to happen. So he begrudgingly accepted the Board banishment.
During this time his wife had a car wreck that caused her to lose her hearing. Her eccentricities became more accentuated. Now if startled she would scream at the top of her voice in panic. She would repeat things that had just been said. It took patience to deal with her. He was wounded and lost any trust of anyone or any organization. They started attending the new Unitarian Universalist Church started by disaffected members of the old church and their friends. They were always present. Every Sunday she would be outside collecting trash before the service and he would be inside preparing his tootsie rolls, no-brand cookies, ice and awful unsweetened tea. During the right season they would bring blueberries galore from their blueberry bushes for all to take home. He would take time to edify the very small congregation on his latest and greatest conspiracy theory. Eyes would roll but he could be calmed down if he felt it was the will of the congregation. She volunteered to lead the services. But she was no longer able to hear where they were in the service and would continue on often not in sync with the rest of the members. But she felt she they had the best services when she led. She would occasionally shout to the minister, “I cannot hear what is going on.” But there would be moments when Victor and she would shine with affection for each other. She would blush at something sweet he said and they would enjoy sitting in the service holding hands. They enjoyed each other’s company and despite all their strangeness they had each found a partner with whom they were happy.
Some of the church members participated in a protest against the Iraq War. As usual they were there. It was a simple weekly protest on a public space not obstructing anyone or traffic. Nevertheless, police officers told them they must move. When asked why they mumbled something about not being allowed there. Everyone intimidated were about to move freely giving up their First Amendment rights. Victor said, “I am not leaving; we are within our rights” and held out his hands to be cuffed. “You will have to take me in,” he declared. “But realize I am a war veteran who has fought for the right to stand here.” He was insistent that he be arrested. The officers, who were relying on intimidation and not law to stop the protest, quickly backed down. Victor was never easily swayed by authority.
Victor was always making investments, trying to make his next big sum of money to give away. It was a pipe dream and a strange contradiction because he would say he did not trust Wall Street. But it was much like his joining the Navy; he saw no other way. He would join the Occupy Savannah Movement and at the same time ask if you wanted to invest in some company on Wall Street. He made a proposal to the city to make companies pay their fair share for the water they used. He explained how the citizens were subsidizing the manufacturers’ water bill. He made sure everybody around him knew about his proposal. He became an annoyance to any politician within earshot as he told them of his idea. After a decade someone in the city agreed and it came into being.
Eventually old age and their quirkiness caught up with them. She had a stroke, followed by senility, and had to go to a nursing home. Victor visited her every day and tried to nurse her back to health enough to come back home. It never happened. Victor, who was a member and promoter of the Hemlock Society, was found dead in his home. Their disappearance from life left a normalcy in the city that made it feel diminished somehow. Their simple living and granola-style life was a little ahead of the curve. In many ways time has shown that Victor was right about the War being justified with lies, and the National Security Agency tapping our lines, and Wall Street becoming too big. In lieu of all this maybe churches and boats should have been rocked. And maybe the two of them were not that crazy after all.