On her Facebook feed, R.Y. just posted a link to a new collection of correspondence between Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. They’re uncompromisingly passionate, she says. She had to close the book every few pages to catch her breath.
This brought to mind my junior high school biology teacher, Rupert Pole. Mr. Pole, it turns out, was Nin’s last husband (one of two, actually: she was simultaneously married to a man in New York). Pole was also the stepson of the architect Lloyd Wright, step-grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the son of actor Reginald Pole.
Mr. Pole never failed to remind us of these family connections, and was quite put out that the 13 and 14 year olds in his classes hadn’t a clue who Nin or Wright or Reginald Pole might be. We could not have found Paris on a map, and had never heard of a “lost generation.” But we did know where to find the sex scene in an increasingly tattered copy of Mario Puzo’s Godfather, which circulated around the classroom one October afternoon (“page 102! page 102!”). Mr. Pole was furious. “If you ever want a job in this neighborhood, you’ll need my letter of recommendation. Every employer here knows who I am!” Pole was a classic, the kind of Hogwarts teacher J. K. Rowling would later take such pleasure skewering.
Mr. Pole’s private life with that writer-woman was a subject of some speculation among adolescents and pre-adolescents alike. Cathy M. reported seeing Mr. Pole and his wife “swimming naked” in the pool at their house in the hills above the reservoir. She said she threw pebbles at them. We didn’t believe her. About the pebbles.
Mr. Pole often told his distracted students that if we didn’t shut up, he wouldn’t allow us to dissect a leopard frog. But he was not very good at follow-through. So of course one day, we did do dissect the frog (step 1: pith the animal – this numbs the creature as adolescents disassemble its body parts before the bell). He then said: “I don’t tolerate organ fights.” Organ fights? That hadn’t occurred to any of us. Hearts and livers ascended mid-air, at first discretely tossed across lab benches and then thrown more boldly across the classroom.
Once, while I was out with the mumps, my friend Julio told me that some boys had gotten into Mr. Pole’s room, stuck a lab rat into dry ice, and then shattered its body on the edge of a table, the shards skittering over the floor. By Monday, the stench was impossible and the room had to be professionally cleaned.
Years later, I looked up Rupert Pole in Nin’s diaries. He’d been an actor, a singer, a forest ranger, and, by the 1960s, our LAUSD junior high science teacher. From what I’ve read since, he was a decent man who found the love of his life, but whose career veered considerably from the upward arcs of his father’s, his step-father’s, his step-grandfather’s, and his wife’s. After her death, he found what I think was a truer calling as Nin’s literary executor.
His was a life more surprising, perhaps, than that of Anäis Nin herself.