The Wild Life and Times of Tom Batchelder

Left James Blair in 1960 minus one eye but otherwise intact.
Effects of injury (a) I was 4f with respect to the draft (b) I
missed graduation.
Went to VMI, almost quit after first year but managed to "hang
in there" for the full four year experience. Learned a lot of
chemistry and that military life, despite the "duty, honor,
country" bit is dedicated to the destruction of human lives on
the planet while protecting other human lives. I never resolved
the contradictions in the above but discovered that I was very
happy that I did not have to go Viet Nam and kill the natives
that were somehow a threat to Americans. I got married to Betsy
Allen as soon as I graduated and immediately went to California.
thinking that UC Berkeley was a country school because it was on
the opposite side of the Bay from San Francisco. The year I
arrived, the Free Speech Movement happened. It altered by world
and I became (after passing my oral exams) the "radical guy in
the college of chemistry"(a rather lonely role). Betsy put up
with my defects until I passed my orals and then proceeded to
obtain a degree in Sociology (Phi Beta Kappa) and decided she
had had enough of my rage against the system and other faults
and departed my life. She has since remarried and raised a
family with a psychologist named Rusty Dillon and lives in
I was devastated by the divorce despite great kindness on
Betsy's part. However, time wounds all heels and I recovered
while continuing to explore the "hippy lifestyle" (For those not
hip, substitute "sex, drugs, and rock and roll"). I obviously
was not on a track to become a professor in America's
educational machinery. I did meet up with Gale (a "California
girl") and she helped get me out of graduate school and off to
University of Florida on a post doctoral fellowship. At which
point our beloved president Nixon decided to carpet bomb
Cambodia since they too were somehow a threat to America. I had
had enough of the system at that point and dropped out. Gale
and I hitchhiked all over Europe getting as far as Turkey which
was the beginning of the forbidden zone for hitchhikers unless
you are wilder than I was. We turned back to Berkeley to do we
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knew not what. We fell in with a theater troupe and did street
theater for a while, worked in free schools, helped start a
warehouse project, worked to start farmer's markets in the city,
and found communes. Some ideas were good and have lasted
(farmers markets), some were less workable(communes are not
conducive to stable family life). We took a shot at a new "age"
but the result was not successful and when the war ended so did
many illusions. I left Berkeley to find a "Guru" in Oregon.
This was not Gale's cup of tea. She had found herself as a
preschool teacher and a Quaker. She and I had a child but I was
not destined to raise him as she left for the east coast and I
gradually lost touch.
My second devastating experience. I was a "basket case". I got
to Oregon. Joined an open commune of ex-con's, Vietnam vets,
run aways, and assorted crazies. It was a zoo. The guru I
sought had left for New Mexico. It was kind of fun. My
nickname was "Captain Rhubarb" because I was forever recruiting
the folk to do migrant labor. Most members of the group
preferred to trust Jesus, smoke dope, and strum their guitars.
After some time I connected with the so called, guru and he
advised me to find a path (religion) that suited me. Tibetan
Bhuddism was "hot" so I decided to head for Boulder Colorado, to
meet the "very big deal" Chogyam Trungpa. I stopped back in
Berkeley and settled into a big commune with a wide variety of
"seekers of truth" but no specific ethos. I never made it to

Over time, some members became Zen monks, some Christian monks,
Tibetan Bhuddists, Sufi's, Muslims, Jewish mystics, and other
less orthodox sects. As communes are often, relationship
incubators as well as whatever else is going on, that happened
to me as well. I married Janice and as seemed to be "the law",
we moved out to our own house. We had four children and after
the first two were born, Janice said in no uncertain terms: "Get
a Job". I said: "How?" I wandered around Berkeley not knowing
where to begin and finally tried calling my research advisor at
the university. He got me a post doctoral fellowship and lo and
behold that led to getting in on the ground floor of the Silicon
Valley revolution. It took a while to get the idea of showing
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up for work and working in an other worldly "clean room".(I was
living the back of a '54 panel truck because my family was in
Berkeley and my job was in Silicon Valley). I whacked what hair
I had left threw away my hippy duds and became a business
person. I was pretty good at it. I started as a process
engineer making chips and discovered that the equipment used to
make the chips didn't work very well so I joined various
equipment manufacturers in trying to innovate the next
generation of equipment to make chips. It was fun. They
tolerated me and I made patents for them. At my peak, I had
what looked like a very good idea. They said: "We love you,
here's bonus." which I promptly invested in windmills (that in
those days didn't work). However, I was smart enough to say:
"I am not so interested in the money, I would really like a
leave of absence to hang out in Palestine with a certain Sufi
teacher." They said: "Great, you can go in 1 year." A year is
a lifetime in Silicon Valley. A year passed and I said: "Time
to go." They said: "What!, but we agreed so you can go."
So I then took two of my kids in second and third grade and went
to live in Palestine for three months. Despite getting
Hepatitus A (myself and my son) and Chicken pox (both kids), it
was very beneficial and prepared me for my third great disaster.
I was still a fairly well respected researcher and equipment
designer. I was asked to fire my staff of 17 engineers and then
my boss said: "Oh by the way, you are fired too." I spent the
next year feeling useless. My wife kicked me out. It was a
tough year. I couldn't buy a job. I felt "over the hill". I
feel very sympathetic to those who are going through the same
"tough times" now. It really rattles your self-esteem. But
even in the dark good things happen. I met Gretchen (knew her
twenty years previous in the commune years). We got married and
I spent much of my time doing the Silicon Valley boogie and
trying to harmonize our various fragments of families. She had
two kids in college and my kids were in high school. Somehow
they all got through college and into their lives some
successful (money wise), and some not so concerned about money.
> We have been together twenty years, give or take, and how you
do the calculations. She got tired of making allowances for
the "Silicon Valley boogie". She said, "I am moving back
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Berkeley." So we sort of compromised on Oakland. Then it
became clear I really was "over the hill". Silicon valley is a
young man's game unless you are a real business man. Which I am
not. So I went back to school and got a teaching credential.
(Absolutely worthless training except the "student teaching").
Taught high school science and chemistry in inner city school
for five years. A very demanding job. Now retired. Gretchen
retires at end of this year. That's a life in one page. I may
have a few adventures left to do but it isn't necessary. I've
had my share. I feel like the prodigal son. Some people don't
have to waste their inheritance and be reduced to absolute
desperation. Others of us have to eat the whole enchilada
before we decide to go home "to where we once belonged"(as the
beatles said it).
I hope everyone has a "grand reunion", My kind regards to you

Tom Batchelder
June 2010