These days, I consider myself well-to-do. Thanks to a successful career as a battlefield spy, I rose to the top of the U.S. government pay grade and retired with a generous annuity. But it wasn’t always thus. I had a childhood of poverty with an alcoholic mother and a father in prison. With no one to take care of me, I was forced to depend on myself. I got part-time jobs to keep myself fed and clothed. That instilled in me a formidable self-reliance, a quality which led to great success on the battlefield.

After my father, a lawyer, was convicted of embezzling $40,000 from one of his clients, my mother and I lived in the slums of Oakland, California. Around the corner from our house was the city’s Jewish Community Center. Even though I wasn’t Jewish, the center allowed me to join its children’s theater taught by ballerina Irma Walenias (not sure how to spell her name). Through her, I became connected with Raoul Pausé, a dance teacher whose group regularly performed at the Westminster Amphitheater in the Oakland hills. I ended up doing child roles with his company.

That got me started as an artist. I had known since I was six years old that I was born to write. But I tried various other vocations just to see. In addition to dance and theater, I tried music and even took a BA in it. And I studied languages, for which I had a natural talent. That helped me in my career as a spy on the battlefield, a calling I pursued to support myself and my family—writing doesn’t pay. I retired 31 years ago so that I could write fulltime. I now have six books and 17 short stories in print.

I can’t recommend poverty to anybody. I escaped from it, but many, maybe even most, don’t. Thanks to my innate bent for languages and my willingness to put my life on the line for my country, I am now financially comfortable. But I know poverty intimately. And I know it is the duty of all of us to help others who have not been able to escape from it.

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