Two days before his 70th birthday, Richard Goldberger FINALLY became a college graduate. His diploma arrived in the mail and was a bit of a surprise—especially to Richard, who has long since given up hope of ever meeting his parents’ high expectations.
“Never was, never will be,” is how Richard remembers his mother’s final assessment of her firstborn son. But to be fair to Mrs. Goldberger, she’s not alone. No one in his family views Richard Goldberger as a success, diploma or no diploma.
I’m one of his harshest critics, and yet somehow our friendship has endured for almost half a century, ever since our paths first crossed at The Gavel, a rooming house for law students on University Street. I was not a law student; in fact I wasn’t even a student. I was just a penniless drifter who’d been provided free lodging by a sympathetic manager provided I keep a low profile. By and by I became acquainted with a young man from Scarsdale, New York, who’d been holed up on the third floor for years. Richard wasn’t in law school, either, but he was well-known on campus as an avant garde filmmaker. This in spite of the fact he scarcely knew which end of an Ariflex to look into.
No matter. In the late Sixties it was pretty easy for a fast-talking, energetic New Yorker to lure a bunch of pretty girls in mini-skirts out to some west side industrial scrap yard, where he’d photograph them jumping up and down—always from a low angle. Philippe Halsman, say hello to Andy Warhol, with technical assistance from Arthur “Weegee” Fellig.
Richard was either too far ahead of his time or too far removed from New York City to win wide recognition, else his early works would surely be selling for thousands at Southeby’s. In Utah, alas, he has remained an oddity—especially now that the youth revolution has failed and those pimply young Nixonians photographed in black and white by Diane Arbus have evidently seized the reins of government.
Richard’s lifelong quest for a college diploma first got sidetracked the night he decided to drop out of Yale. He recalls looking out the window of his ivied dormitory room—facing westward—when he heard a voice inside his head. “It’s too early to go to sleep,” it said. Next thing he knew, he was working as a roughneck in an Oklahoma oil field, then as an underground miner in Park City. Neither job lasted long; mostly all he liked about the blue collar life were the women: leggy blondes with overbites and names like RaeLynn and SyndeeLou. The sort of girls his mother would DEFINITELY prefer he not bring home to Scarsdale!
One day in 1969 Richard and I ventured out to Wendover, which is as far from Scarsdale as a person can possible get. For Richard, it was love at first sight, and thus was born the Salt Flat News, a tabloid modeled after the New York Daily News. Price per issue was twenty-five cents ($.30 in New York), and before we knew it, circulation had soared to eighty thousand readers, approximately six of whom resided in Wendover. And although the venture sputtered to a halt five years later, the founder and I have remained close. Well, somewhat close. Actually, we are complete opposites, yet between us there is a strange symbiosis. What I lack in energy, he more than makes up for; what he lacks in discipline—well, I do the best I can.
Over the years Richard has launched dozens of enterprises, all of them short-lived. I remember once he opened a bookstore near the corner of Ninth and Ninth—directly across the street from a dress shop owned by an attractive woman named Terrill Starr. There were scarcely any books in the store—just a nice view!
Later, he ran a combination filling station and curio shop on Eleventh East and Fifth South. Like all his other enterprises, it quickly became a magnet for unusual people; in fact, Richard has provided part-time employment for dozens of social misfits over the years—same as he once did for me.
Of late he’s billed himself as a journalist and is a fixture at every news conference and demonstration that takes place in Salt Lake City. On Sundays he can be found at the Redwood Road Swap Meet, selling stuff he buys cheap at yard sales. He’s very good at buying low and selling high—a successful junk peddler, if you will. Not a Harvard professor, like his younger brother Ary, but, still, a success. And now, fifty long years after he first enrolled as a freshman at the University of Utah, a college graduate!