Burt Long

Duration: 1hr: 36Mins
Please read and accept the disclaimer below to continue.

DISCLAIMER

I have read and accept the terms of the disclaimer.

The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.

The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.

The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:

The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
500 McKinney
Houston, Texas 77002


The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.

For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at information@houstonoralhistory.org.

I have read and accept the terms of the disclaimer.



Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: Burt Long
Interviewed by:  David Goldstein
Date:  November 13, 2009

 

 

DG:      Today is November 13.  We are in the Fifth Ward studio of Burt Long, being interviewed for the Houston Oral History Project.  My name is David Goldstein.  How are you today, Sir?

BL:       Just fine.  Doing great.  I am alive!  I woke up this morning.  I’m doing fine.

DG:      Well, it is our tradition to begin at the beginning.  Tell us where you were born and your earliest memories.

BL:       I was born here in Fifth Ward, Texas.  Fifth Ward, Texas is, per capita, still one of the poorest regions in the state.  There has been a lot of progress.  I am part of that progress right now in that my house was built by a Fifth Ward redevelopment with the CEO of the company, a Caucasian white friend of mine who is my neighbor who decided that if he was going to build and try to help Fifth Ward become what it could become, because for  years, it was redlined – you could not get loans here in the Fifth Ward – he decided he would live here, too.  So I mentioned that he is white.  He has raised his daughters here that are now like, I think, 8, 9, 10, 11.  There are 3 of them over there.  They were babies.  I have pictures of me holding them as babies.  We are good friends.  In fact, the car that I drove down to Mexico this past week is his Avalon, Toyota Avalon, that he sold me and went and bought a new one because he buys one every 10 years but it still runs and it is great so I bought it.  Fifth Ward is my home.  I am back in Fifth Ward now for the last 10-12 years because we came back . . . we were living in Spain, my wife and I, we were living in Europe after winning the Rome Prize which is one of the most prestigious, world renowned art prizes, and I won that prize which affords you to live in Italy.  After Italy, we decided we would stay in Europe.  Well, somewhere in there, we found out that my wife was going to die.  She had never been sick in her life.  We had been married 34 years.  Connie, my childhood sweetheart that we grew up here in Fifth  Ward together.  We found out that she was going to die of cancer.  I came home from the mayor’s office in my little village of 600 people in Spain and found her on the floor.  We went to the doctor and the doctor said, “Young man, in 4 months, your wife will be dead.”  And so, naturally, being a Houstonian and knowing about the cancer center here – what is the name of it?

DG:      M.D. Anderson.

BL:       M.D. Anderson, a part of the largest medical center in the world, that we found out on her trip yesterday reading some of the stats, that this is the largest medical center in the world.  We naturally wanted to get her back here so they could refute what I had been told.  Well, when I got here with all of her x-rays and everything, some of my rich collector friends had called and made arrangements – you just can’t walk in – but they had pulled some strings and got us in, in a 14 day period.  We came back here to get her treated and the first thing the doctor asked me was, “Why are you here?  What’s the problem?”  He was looking at the x-rays and everything.  I said, “Well, they told me my wife is going to be dead in about 4 months.”  He said, “Well, they told you the truth but you are here now, you are in the system, we will do what we can and we will see what happens.”  Well, in about 2-1/2 months . . . I had not told my wife that she was dying.  She knew she was ill.  She had never been ill before in her life.  The doctor’s office called and said, “We recommend that you go home and go to hospice,” and my wife started crying.  She said, “That means I am dying.”  He said, “Yes.”  And that was it.

cue point


I have a brother and 2 sisters.  I had a brother and 2 sisters.  I have 2 sisters.  My brother and one of my sisters, we are finding out that we all have the same genetic defects.  We all have congestive heart problems.  He had emphysema.  He had been retired from the post office in California for years because he had bronchial conditions as well as high blood pressure and diabetes and all those things, and myself, I have been in and out of the hospital for the last 3-1/2 to 4 years.  I was supposed to have died 3 times last year with a bypass operation, erupted gallbladder, on the operating table 5 times, 3 times while I was making the piece for the Library.  That piece was supposed to be finished . . . “Art Life” the commission that I did for the City, for the ____ Library, technically was supposed to have been finished in a 6 month period.  It took me 15 months.  Technically, I should have never told them I could finish it in 6 months but if somebody is offering you a commission for $75,000, and “Can you finish it,” you say, “Of course!”  It was too huge of a project to even imagine you could finish but then on top of all of that, the medical things all kicked in and I ended up being ill and everything else.  But we got it finished.  The ultimate situation is that you get things finished. 
I grew up in Fifth Ward.  My uncle was at the Houston Club in charge of all black or Negro employees.  Houston Club is still here.  It is one of the richest private clubs in the world.  He was there 42 years.  He was the sole male help for my mother, his sister and her 3 kids because my dad died in an industrial accident here in Fifth Ward at the Sheffield Steel Company.  He fell in a vat of hot molten steel that they used to coat the coating on coat hangers.  They do not do it that way anymore but that is the way . . . he fell into that vat of steel and lived for 19 days completely almost cooked.   I was 3 years old.  My brother was 2.  My sister was 1.  My mother was expecting my baby sister.  And so, we had no money and naturally, during those times, the little money that they gave her to take care of the family was . . . she bought the house where we were raised here in Fifth Ward and that is where we grew up.  My mother went to Phyllis Wheatley.  I went to Phyllis Wheatley.  My kids went to Phyllis Wheatley and E.O. Smith.  My grandbabies went to the same school which is right around the corner.  They just spent millions of dollars redoing that school which is now 60% Spanish or Mexican enrollment.  It used to be totally black here in Fifth Ward but it is changing dramatically.  In fact, right behind me, the adjoining lot is one of the accountants and bookkeepers with the firm run by my neighbor who builds retirement homes and refurbished homes here in Fifth Ward and all over.  She is white.  She is building a house right there from the ground up.  They just started putting in the foundation.  So it is starting to change.  Fifth Ward is, like I said, the poorest per capita of any city in the state of Texas.  I forget the numbers but it is very, very low, mostly because it is mostly black retirees that worked as janitors and teachers and people of color because even if you had a Ph.D., you still had to be a janitor during those days.  You could not get a job during those days.  There were a lot of very educated people that they could work 2 places:  they could work on the railroad and they could work for the school districts, or they were teachers.

cue point


I was talking about the Houston Club.  My uncle was there, I think partly because he got tired of every moment he turned around, we needed money so he got me a job there.  The day I signed up to play football because I was the same size I am now, I am 280 pounds of good-looking maleness . . . they were, of course, going to not put me on . . . we did not have tennis clubs and golfing clubs at that time.  I was going to be on the football team, right?  And so, the day I signed up to play football was the same day he called me and said, “I got you a job at the Houston Club.”  So I went to work for the Houston Club as a floor steward and dishwasher.  I stayed there until I was 19 years old and when I left, I was the highest paid person in charge of a department there.  I was in charge of all well washing of the floor stewards and all.  I was making $1.27 an hour.  I started out at 50 cents an hour.  My brother worked there as a waiter for many years.  When my mother found my stepfather, I said, O.K., I am out of here now.  I can leave, because I was basically the male of the family.  I bought the first gifts.  They all remind me that our first bicycles and all those things, I bought them because I was the male.  Basically, I never had a childhood.  I am figuring out that.
So he got me a job there and that is where I learned the culinary field.  The first French chef ever to be in a Southern . . . Paul Burrers (sp?).  A Frenchman with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, stomach over here, cursing everybody out, drunk all the time, but that is where I learned fine cuisine and that is what I knew – fine cuisine, because it was the finest of the finest.  Escargot.  European training.  And then, I went in the Marine Corps and naturally, the Marine Corps, they said, welcome . . . actually, I tried to get into the Air Force, I tried to get into the Army, I tried to get into the Navy.  None of them would take me because I was so big.  But the Marine Corps said, “Come right in! Come right in,” so the drill instructors could have someone to beat up on.  “What do you see when you look in the mirror, you fat slob?”  I mean, that kind of stuff.  “I’ll bet all you did all your life was eat malts, right?”  “Yes, sir.”  “You are a fat slob, aren’t you?”  “Yes, sir.”  And so, I went in the Marine Corps for another 6 years and naturally they did not put me in the culinary field, they made me an infantryman.  But what happened was I came back to see my wife and I sort of overstayed my leave about 2-1/2 months and I missed the ship for Okinawa.  I was supposed to have been going to Okinawa and I missed the ship.  They talked me into going back and I said, “O.K., I’ll go back.”  I got back to the base and I thought they would put me on the ship because we were getting ready to ship out.  Well, they didn’t put me on the ship.  All the troops had left and went to Okinawa, to the embarkment place in San Francisco, and they said, “Well, no, we see here by your MOS (??) you know how to cook.”  So they sent me a skeleton crew on the base.  I was in amphibian tractors down in Oceanside, California, and they put me on house arrest there on the base cooking.

cue point

And then, they found out what I could do and then they transferred me to the Officer’s Club.  I was supposed to be there for 2 months and I ended up staying there for 4 years because I knew the culinary arts and they could use my expertise to . . . I mean, the officers lived like civilians, you know?  They had their Officer’s Club with surf and turf and good eating and stuff and that is where I stayed for 4-1/2 years.  I had my own room as a PFC because I never was able to make the time . . . I would go on weekend leave to Los Angeles and I would call back my mess sergeant saying, “I can’t make it.”  He would say, “Tuesday, you have your black ass back here!” It was just like a job, you know what I mean?  It wasn’t like being in the military.  I should have been locked up.  But what happened was . . . I am a little ahead of myself but it is a very crucial story that needs to be told.  I was up for court martial and all that because I was AWOL 2 months but I was a perfect soldier.  My boots were perfect.  My clothes were perfect.  I think it was a 5 – I had like a 4.99.  And they said, “But this guy is a good guy, you know, he just can’t make the time!”
So then, when I was on the base, house arrest, amphibian tractors . . . one day, I was there.  We were on the beach, amphibian tractors. I hear this screaming out in the ocean and I swam out and I saved this young soldier, young Marine.  Well, it just so happened that that was the CEO’s son and I saved his life, so the court martial and everything else went out the window, so I did not go to prison.  It was one of those fluke things, do you know what I mean?
So it was a great period in my life and I learned how to run clubs and do all of those things.  And then, when I came out of the Marine Corps, I spent 12 years in California.  I ended up being executive chef with the famous Flying Tigers freight line that opened up a chain of restaurants called The Hungry Tigers.  I ended up opening up like 8 or 10 of the 12 that they opened.  They were the first ones to fly in fresh Maine lobsters every day in a big Styrofoam . . . and we would cook them . . . scrod and abalone and stuff like that, and I learned how to cook all those things.  My last job with them was when I was in charge of the Hungry Tiger on the corner of Hollywood and Vine in California.  And then, I got tapped by the LA Unified School Districts to teach the culinary arts so I went to UCLA, got certification teaching and I did that.  That was my culinary career.  I went to LA Trade Technical College which is a culinary school and I won Escoffier medals and all of the top medals, Chef Cuisine and all those things.  I won all of the top medals that you could win in the culinary arts.  And then, my last job in the culinary arts was Executive Sous-Chef #2 in charge of the first Ritz Carlton Hotel to open in America.  Now they have them everywhere but I opened up the first one at the Hancock Center in Chicago.  I was the number 2 man.  I went up there, it was in the cold of winter, living in my travel trailer that I bought to travel.  On the back of it, I had my art and I was traveling around doing mall shows.  And that came about because when we lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon, I had left my job teaching and on a vacation, found Klamath Falls, Oregon.  It was such a beautiful place, you know -- Cradle Lake and 100 lakes within 100 miles and all of that.  And I ended up opening up Bert’s Gourmet Restaurant.

cue point

  Big Bert’s, it was called.  And the Governor used to fly in with his helicopter and I would feed him.  It was a real going entity.  I taught at Oregon Institute of technology gourmet classes for all the ladies in the community.  And what happened was that was the year of the first gasoline prices in America where you had to get in line -- to get gas rationing and stuff.  So, all of a sudden, I had no business because it was totally tourist.  And so, I ended up closing the restaurant and got in my car and I said, well I know where I can get a job.  I left the family, drove to Las Vegas, got there one day; the next day was in charge of the showroom at the MGM Grand and I went back and got my family.  We lived on the lot of the MGM Grand in our 20 feet travel trailer until we could get a house and that is where the art career started, really.  I mean, I was painting and doing stuff on the road but I really did not know what I was doing.  What happened was in Las Vegas, just like the stars on the stage, well, it is show time there.  Now we know that Billy Chef can be show time. Everybody knows Iron Chef and all those things but during those days, you had Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet.  He was the only one.  “Take a slurp of wine.”  And Julia Childs and those people.  So you hired a PR person to promote you just like the stars.  The chefs did.  So I hired me a little elderly lady.  She was about 70 years old.  She said, “Well, we know you must be good or you would not be in charge of the showroom as a sous-chef.  You must be good.”  And what she was saying was . . . even though you are black because I was the only black.  During those days, there were no black executive chefs.  But I had the pedigree and all the credentials and won awards.  So anyway, “What do you besides cook?  We know you are good.”  I said, “Well, I can paint and I can write.”  She said, “Well, what do you want to write?”  I said, “Well, I want to do a cooking column, kind of comical like Graham Kerr.”  She said, “Write 10 of them.  Sit down and write 10 of them and then make me 10 paintings.”  So I sat at the end of the bed every night when I came in from the hotel and I made these 10 paintings and I wrote the articles.  Well, I ended up writing a cooking column for the Variety magazine for 1 year in Las Vegas and she went and got it shown to MGM art gallery, my work and I ended up with my first solo show at the MGM Grand Gallery.  Well, then when that happened, then I said, “Well, you know, I am out of here.”  That was it.  I resigned from being a chef.  That was it.  No more.  I said I am not going to do this anymore. 
We had the brand new travel trailer, brand new car, and so I just took off doing my own shows across . . . that is what I knew to do, you know?  The way you get an art career these days is that you go get your degree at a college or whatever.  Well, I did not know anything about that.  Mall shows is what I could see.  Of course, I never sold anything because my stuff was so weird.  Do you know what I am saying?  I had one commission that this guy came in and he said, “Can you do something about a golf course?”  And so, I did a piece.  He was an executive for Goodyear Tires, I remember that.  And then, I had one commission, I painted a refrigerator door in an RV van.  The person wanted a picture on his refrigerator door.  I did  that.  I wish I knew how I could get that.  I do not know where it is now.  And then, the other thing – we were stranded in Ajo, Arizona – no money, no nothing – and I traded about 4 or 5 little paintings like this of watermelons and a few other things, and I traded that for a box of groceries.  I wish I could find those paintings.  And so, that was the way the art career started.

cue point

  And then, I ended up in . . . I had heard about the one important collection . . . during those times, blacks were not collecting.  The only blacks collecting art was Johnson Publishing Company, Ebony and Jet magazine.  They had a world renowned collection.  So, I drove . . . I am that way . . . I drove to Chicago, Connie and I . . . snow and all that.  Wrecked the car.  I was driving on the icy highway and I looked and a trailer was coming around the side.  It had hit a slick.  But it was still drivable and I ended up in Chicago parked across the street from one of the most famous places in the art world, the Southside Community Art Center which is where ____ Bearden and Charles White and all those guys have shown there at some time or another.  And I ended up getting permission from the gasoline station on the corner across the street . . . “Could I park my car and my trailer there because I am stranded, I am an artist?”  And I went over and I talked to him and stuff, and they would have me over for the openings and they would let me paint down in . . . I had sent, Connie, my wife, back to Houston because she had to see about the kids.  They were here with her mother.  I was trying to figure out what am I going to do?  The car is broke.  I told them, “I am a chef.  I know how to do this.  I can do it.”  And it got so bad, one day I woke up – icicles were on the inside of the trailer.  That is how cold it was.  No heat.  I mean, it was literally ice.  I said, “I’ve got to go get a job somewhere.”  So I said, Ritz Carlton?  O.K.  I know this kind of stuff.  So I cleaned up, went down and nobody believed it.  Now, Connie and I had taken this 8 feet painting called “The Hanging Tree” and walked the streets of Chicago and went to see Johnson Publishing Company.  And it was like Lou Rawls talking about the hawk.  That song - I understood what that song meant.  They used to show it.  They do not show it too much these days.  It used to be every winter, they would show . . . in Chicago, you would turn the corner and then you would be going this way but you would be going backwards because the wind was blowing and the cold . . . well, that is the way it was.  And we had this 8 foot painting trying to get there.  So we walked in the door of Ebony. I told them, “Hi, I am Bert Long and I am here to see the art director.”  Mr. Herbert Temple.  He is still there.  I said, “Mr. Herbert Temple?” and I waited and I waited.  He finally came downstairs and Mr. Temple said, “Sir, we are a professional company here.  You just can’t walk in here.”  Do you know what I mean?  That was the end of that.  And so, I left.  And evidently, I went back to my trailer, then sent Connie home and I am stranded in Chicago.  So then, it got to the point I had to do something so I said, O.K., I will go get me another cooking job.  I came back that evening and I was the number 2 man in charge of the Ritz Carlton because what happened - it was a fluke -- what happened is, number 1, I knew the European cookery as well as they do because I had been trained in it with Paul here at the Houston Club and all of that, and then my training at Los Angeles Trade . . . all European training.  My degree is restaurant management, do you understand?  And that is the way it was.  They had opened up the first Ritz Carlton in America; you know, fanfare, beautiful and all that.  They had all these French chefs there.  Well, all of the French chefs were killing all of the peons of American help that had to do . . . because they could not communicate with them.  So here I was, Bert Long, American, that knew their ways but could communicate with the American help.  So, the buffer was put me in charge but boy, that was a tough one.  This was a good . . . he put me in charge in the number 2 position over . . . you have the executive chef and you have the executive sous chef.  They did not have sous chefs.  Well, the executive sous-chef is the person that actually runs the hotel kitchens. 

cue point

The executive chef runs it but he is the one that makes all the meetings, he is the dilettante.  He is the one that is going to the parties.  He is the one that is making menus and stuff.  But the person that runs it is the executive sous chef.  Do you understand?  And so, he put me in charge.  That did not go too well with the French chefs, you know, but then, like one of the first trials – he had to leave and go somewhere and so, when he left, none of them wanted to be in charge of the grill room or the room where basically Americans would come and eat, wanted their American breakfast and stuff.  None of the French chefs wanted to have anything to do with that.  So my first job I did when he left to go on vacation was take and assign all of them to do a . . .
So the Ritz Carlton happened and then the reason I ended up back here is they flew Connie, my wife, there because they wanted to keep me there after 11 months and they put us up in the presidential suite and wooed us and wooed her . . . “He’s going to have a nice position here.  He’s going to be making a lot of money.  We need him,” and all of this.  That was the only time in my life that my wife said, “I’m not following you.”  She said, “My face was cracking, it was so cold!”  She refused to move to Chicago.  We had been everywhere.  She would just go, you know.  So I said, “Well, no wife.  You’ve got 30 days to find you somebody.  I am out of here.”  So that was it.  I came back to Houston and took a position . . . basically I said, well, all I want to do is paint anyway.  I am not going to work.  I am not going to run hotels.  But I had to . . . I said, O.K., I’ll work 1 year.  I will work 1 year.  I will save some money and will do some art and then I will take off.  Well naturally, that year, I was executive sous chef in charge of the Hyatt Regency here in Houston.  I had 6 restaurants.  The meat bill was $6 million a year.  300 employees making nearly $40,000 a  year and doing great and nobody in the family could understand why in the world I would leave that to go make nothing basically, but I did.  That is the way I have done everything all my life.  I mean, I see it, you know.  I can’t explain it.  So I worked there 1 year and naturally I did not save any money.  I made one painting called “Feast” which is one of my most famous paintings.  I am doing a whole series about “Feast” right now which brings us to right here in Fifth Ward back behind my studio here.  The reason why this studio is not as big as it could be is because I have to have always a garden.  In Spain, I had a huge garden.  I would go down the hill.  It took me 8 years in Spain getting the soil right, finally getting them to accept me and put me up a fence because every year, my watermelons would get just right and I would go down there and the mules would break out and eat the watermelons just as they were . . . I had a perfect garden.  I mean, it was so beautiful.  And that was the year I had to come back. 

cue point

There was a big article done about 8 months ago, the front page of the biggest newspaper in Spain that said, “Where is Bert Long?  We still have all his stuff here.  He told us to keep it.  We still have it.  What is he doing?”  I send emails and keep in touch.  I have to go.  I was in the middle of a huge project when I left there.  Las Villawicas (sp?) project.  It was 7 cities.  I lived in a little village of 600 people called Berzocana.  It is in Extremadura.  It is the region where a lot of the conquistadors came from.  Cortez and Trujillo and all those guys came to America, and I know why they came – because that is the poorest part of Spain.  They were trying to escape just like I was trying to escape.  They were trying to go find the gold and bring it back.  But it is the poorest region in Spain, part of Spain.  There is no water, very little water, in the Sierras but it is beautiful.  There is no pollution.  There is no industry.  Every morning, all of the elders get on their burros and ride down to the gardens.  600 people.  And the plaza has 9 bars and every night, we started at bar #1 and we made the circle.  And it only cost you 50 cents for a drinks so you could buy all your friends a drink.  It was  a great time.  ______.  I have to go back.  I was in the middle of this project I had proposed and there they accepted it, like the passport, you know, for national parks that you go and you can get it stamped that you have been to all of the national parks and everything – well, I came up with the same concept to do the 7 cities in the Las Villawiccas (sp?) region.  None of these towns had over 3,000 people and I proposed that I would do a landmark sculpture or something in each one of those towns.  They did not have any money to pay but I would do it in trade.  They are famous for Serrano hams.  They are famous for ____ red wines.  O.K., give me wine for the rest of my life and every year for 10 years, I will get a ham, 2 hams from this region with a little money.  But the main reason is in Spain, they do great books.  So, finally, all the mayors got together and I had had 2 or 3 great shows there and they found out about my reputation as an artist and _____ and all that.  So they said, “Let’s do it.”  So I was in the middle of that – doing 3 drawings in each village and then they were going to committees and I had finished about half.  I was looking at them another day, looking at the drawings.  So I need to go back and maybe try to kick that in.
So I came back to Houston and we buried my wife. I had won the Bemis prize.  The Bemis prize is the largest, one of the most prestigious residences in the art world and it is based, of all places, in Omaha, Nebraska.  Jun Kaneko, one of the world’s greatest sculptors has a block square of foundry there.  He did a huge project.  They had 2 full pages in the New York Times about him last year.  It is really a famous area for him as well as the Bemis.  Artists from all over the world get a chance to go there if you win the prize and spend time doing whatever you want to do.  They gave me a nearly 3,000 foot studio and you just lived there and did whatever you wanted to do.  That is what it is.  It is like winning the Rome Prize.  The Rome Prize is the same thing.  It is a think tank.  And then, when I won the Rome Prize, you go there, they have committees that choose you out of . . . every year, they choose 1 or 2 artists ______.  And then, you go and they give you a stipend and a room, a house.  And then, every day, they feed you, 2-3 meals a day.  You eat with all of the fellows.  It is a think tank.  Everybody there is in a specialty.  They are either – I forget the name of the one who was really well known in academics.  Fulbrights.  The Fulbrights – they are there.  And we have had 4 Nobel Prize winners that were former fellows.

cue point

  And you are a fellow for life.  Every year, you pay your dues and you get all the public . . . in fact, right now, they just asked us . . . they are doing a book on the Academy and they need anybody that has photography from the era when they were there about anything, they would like to have it for the book.  But anyway, the long story is that art has taken me a lot of different places and it all started right here in the Fifth Ward in Houston, Texas. And now, here I am, back where I fought like hell to get out of.  I mean, Houston is a great place, it is a great place, and I imagine any place is a great place, can be, depending on . . . they do have one of the most vibrant art communities of anyplace.  It is like number 4 in the nation as an art center.  You have New York, you have California, you have Houston, Seattle. Do you understand?  The others don’t.  Chicago, once in a while, but we are considered like one of the top.  We have the Menil, we have the Museum of Fine Arts, we have the Contemporary Arts Museum.  We have some great institutions here and they are known worldwide.  I mean, it is called the third coast.  It is considered one of the most vibrant art communities.  So it has been really great for me in that I have won the prizes, I have gotten some accolades, made some money.  It is never enough, you know.  There is a documentary being done on me by John Guess of Just Right Films.  They have been filming for 2 years and about 3 weeks ago, they did the preview at the Ensemble Theater.  That is coming out and HBO is looking at it and it is going to Sundance. They won an award, number two for a film done on the immigration problems here with Mexican aliens coming across the border and they won number 2 in the California Film Festival.  It is finishing up in 1 month.  And then, there is a book being done on me by Thomas _____ who is considered the top art writer in the world right now.  He was head of SBA in New York, the chairman for many, many years in Princeton.  He is finishing that up.  And so, there are a lot of good things happening.  I have 4 projects underway right now, right here in Fifth Ward.  I came back because of my wife.  Well, when I came back, our house that we had left in Shepherd, Texas, we went up to see it the last time we were here before we went back to Spain to find out that she was ill.  Three months before that, we had come back – I had a big solo show from Rome at the Contemporary Arts Museum and we went up to see the house.  We had not seen the house in 5-6 months.  When we drove in, it was burned down to the ground.  And on the walls that were left standing there in the big plate glass window was “fuck you niggers” and swastika signs.  And the Houston Press did a big story on it and all of that.  The skinheads had burned it down.  We had a big Cadillac hearse that was parked in the yard on blocks, a big white one, because my uncle in Acres Home was one of the first black morticians in the state of Texas, and the family had given me the hearse to keep for the family.  Well, it was gone.  And the house was burned down.  And we no longer had a place to stay.  That is why I ended up meeting Steven Fairfield and Chris Hagerty, another developer, that saw the story in the Houston Press about that and said, “Bert, how can we help you?  Can we do a benefit or something?”  I had meetings with them and said, “You know, I am in the middle of a project in Spain,” which I mentioned earlier.  “I need to get back.  The house is burned down, so I appreciate it, I will keep in touch, but we are headed back to Spain.” And, at that point, I was saying, O.K., I am not going back.

cue point

  The house is burned down.  We will stay in Europe or do whatever.  Well, in 3 months, we found out that she was dying and I came back to M.D. Anderson.  And we have been back now, you know, for 10 years.  But I am still in contact with them and I will be going back, if not to live, maybe do a project or whatever.  Part of being an artist is the freedom to be an artist.  Do you understand?  I mean, you’ve got to be -- people want to say insane, crazy or whatever, different -- I like the word “unique” myself.  But the thing is, you have the freedom to do what you want to do.  And so, you cannot be free to do what you want to do and then start trying to fit into all of the stuff that keeps us grinding away trying to have what people call security, when I have never . . . I am 70 years old . . . I found out there is no such thing.  The only security you have is in you and your faith if you happen to be faithful to some religion or some whatever.  And even then, it is just what it says it is:  It is faith.  You understand.  The proof is that you have faith.  That is it.  And that is the way I look at everything.  I am not very religious but I also look at the universe and I look at I had too many what we would call miracles happen in my life to pooh-pooh anything.  Seriously, I have had some pretty unique things happen in my life.  So I am back in Fifth Ward and right now, Steven Fairfield and Chris Hagerty, rebuilt a house over in Third Ward, an old building, and fixed it up so we can move in rent free for 6-7 months.  It was actually 4 months.  I left there afterwards.  There was another place there.  I had my first studio where I started that painting right there – “Riding the Tiger.”  Do you understand?  And he is still a friend. 
Right now, my endeavor is I had a beautiful solo show at the Museum of Fine Arts 1-1/2 years ago.  I have had 6 solo museum shows which is pretty incredible for a Texas artist.  There is hardly anybody that has had those kinds of things happen.  I have had 6 solo museum shows.  I am working on a project right now, which most of my projects are this way . . . I do not wait for someone to say, O.K., we’ve got a grant, we’ve got the money.  I tend to do what I feel.  Not tend to do – that is what I do.  I mean, I am true to what I feel.  And so, we took a trip.  I was going to show Joan, my wife, her daughter was here visiting so we said, well, where do you go when you are in Houston?  I mean, where do you go?  San Antonio?  I got sick of going there.  It is all touristy stuff.  You go to NASA.  There are no mountains.  There is no scenery.  We were talking about it yesterday.  You drive for days to get out of Texas.  Do you know what I mean?   Days!  I mean, I put 2,000 miles on the car.  It takes a long time to get out of here to get to anything that is interesting unless you are like me – I took 1,000 photos on this trip.  And I do not squeeze off 10 to get 1.  I squeeze 1 to get 1.  And so, it is good for me because I can see the beauty . . . an open field with one bush is a nice minimalist exercise for me.  Other people say, ain’t nothing there!  Do you know what I mean?  Or I am driving through all these trees and I see 20 shades of green at different times of the year and other people, all they see is bushes.  So right now, I am working on a project because we took her down to ride the ferry which everybody that ever comes here, we would take them to ride the ferry, go across the Bolivar ferry, take a bag of crackers, feed the gulls. 

cue point

That is always fun.  Give a few camera ops to people.  Well, we crossed it and we said, O.K., we will turn around and come back.  It was getting late.  It was 6:30 in the evening, getting dark.  There was a line as far as you could see trying to get on the ferry. Well, Hurricane Ike had happened but this is 5 months later.  So I am thinking that is over.  We saw the boats and all that mess but that is over.  Well, there actually was a hush up and a cover up of the governor said, “We are not going to have Katrina here.”  What happened with Katrina is because of the mess up with the Dome, it became national, international news.  And as a PR situation for the governor and for the state and the mayor, they would have preferred that didn’t happen.  Well, they had seen that and they said, “We are not going to let that happen here.”  So consequently, nobody was able to get in down there.  I mean, we now know that there were 10,000 heads of cattle that died down there.  Did we ever see any of it?  There were people that died.  Everybody has their opinions and they are just as right as I am – this is America – you can have your opinions, you can come down on . . . at least you do not have to worry about somebody standing you up on a wall and shooting you hopefully.  But, you know, I mean, for instance, the troops coming back from Iraq but George Bush, you could not see them.  Well, I thought that was ridiculous.  I mean, in Canada in the same war, they have parades for the soldiers when they come back from Iraq and they are dead.  Do you understand?  So what I am saying is that we are supposed to be a free and open society, we are supposed to be grown – in Europe, when I am in Europe, the ETA, every week, they blow up a building, kill people, bodies and skulls and arms are laying on the road and they show it on the news.  But here, we do not show that.   So I was appalled that here I am in Bolivar, in Galveston, and so we could not catch the ferry because there was a long line and Joan was almost in tears.  “We are going to sit here 4 hours again?”  I said, “Wait a minute, I think” . . . I had never done it . . . I said, “But you can drive out through High Island, you just keep going and you can get out.  You do not have to go back.”  So we started driving.  Well, it was like driving in a war zone.  There were these huge big disaster black trucks with disaster on them.  There were mountains as tall as this building as far as you could see on the roads where debris and smoke . . . I never saw anything like it in my life because I missed Okinawa, right?  But it was a war zone.  It was the most incredible thing you could ever see.  And naturally, me being an artist the way I am, I said, “My God.  I’ve got to come back down here.”  Joan knew it already.  I said, “I’ve got to get back down here.”  So for the last 8-9 months now . . . I take the New York Times.  I take the Washington Post.  I take the Houston Chronicle.  I take -- 50 publications a month we get through our door.  I read.  My whole education in art is via the library, was me sitting in the library, the central library, and reading every art book that I could put my hands on.  I have never had a formal education.  Everything I know about art was about sitting and reading.  So that is what I do.  So how is it that I am reading my New York Times every day, I am reading my Washington Post and here is Bolivar in this state and I do not know anything about it?  It was not being released.  Little by little, a little trickle stuff started to come out about the stats and everything now.  Well, for 8 months, I decided I was going to do something about it.  So I went down there and I started taking my camera, my Nikons and my cameras, and I have been going down there for 8 months and I have thousands of images now of what was left.

cue point

  I mean, there were 3,500 homes and there are only 1,800 or something left.  The rest of them are gone.  There is nothing there but concrete paths and piers and remnants of kids’ sneakers or little gummy bears or something in the dirt.  So I have all these images.  And I came back and I started talking to Kelly Klaasmeyer of the Houston Press and the Glass Tower and they said, “Well, Bert, maybe we can help.”  They went and they got a small grant – it wasn’t much - $700, but I have been interviewing people down there because I was driving around and I am saying, geez, this is devastation.  This is America.  How can it be that these people still have not even gotten water from FEMA yet?  This is 5 months and they still have not gotten a major shipment of water.  I stopped and talked to the man who just happened to be the minister --- the water was finally on the way.  And it just bothered me.  And I said, how can this be America?  I thought we learned with Katrina.  And so, I have been going down there for 8 months.  I now have started, as you see in my driveway, a whole exhibition about it.  I have had 2 curators here.  I won’t mention the institutions that we are talking about doing the show.  When I am billing the show, I do not care if any of them show it.  I am going to do the show.  We are going to do interviews and photos on _____.  We are in the middle of that right now.  I have a show coming up with the Jung Center that I am doing about Jung.  Basically, it is going to be based on his red book that they found.  They finally released it.  I have been doing 15-20 new paintings on that.  I am always working on my thesis project which is based on germination and fertility where I film beautiful models, 2 Russian models and a Chilean model in my garden which, back behind here, I have 8 foot tomato plants and squash and you name it.  Okra.  I grow all my own vegetables and asparagus as you heard . . . white cucumbers and all those things.  So I am working on those projects right now as well as the book.  That is the way I am.  So, I ______.  This past weekend, once in a while, I get so burnt out . . . I was very upset about the election and I am not going to talk about politics, about our expecting some other outcome and it happened . . . but it is a miracle.  We have the right to vote for who we want to.  But I have been running day and night.  I was in emergency at the VA 3 times last week with problems with my congestive heart failure and stuff.  My legs all of a sudden blew up on me and I could not breathe and everything, and I was just tired.  So I decided, the way I relax is to go driving.  Get in the car and just go.  About 1 year ago, in Texas Highways, I read an article where in Mexico, there is a town that they flooded and covered the town up to create this damn lake.  And now, over the last 50-60 or whatever years, because of the drought, the town has reemerged.  And I said, let’s go see that.  Well, we got ready to go and that was the same time as the 911 thing and all that stuff.  And so, all of a sudden, you had to have a passport.  Well, I have passports because we travel to Europe and everything.  When I checked my passport, it was going to be out of date for that trip.  So we decided we would just drive.  We ended up going to a place I had never been to in my life.  Went to Brandon.  Have you ever been to Brandon?  Have you ever heard of Brandon?  Brandon is where all the stars . . . I was just reading, Andy Williams has a theater there and all the folks.

cue point


DG:      Branson.

CC:      Branson.  So I went there, and we did not go there . . . and finally the other day I said, let’s go.  But I lost the publication.  I said, it is somewhere down there.  So we went to Mexico and I found it.  You drive 9 miles down.  You have to drive all the way to Reynoso and all the way into Mexico and then you will drive 9 miles down a gravel road and they tell you on all the maps – don’t drive at night, be careful where you go, and we had been in that situation. We got stranded in Mexico once in the middle of the night.  And so, we ended up, I’d say 3-4 days because the money is limited right now we both are just so . . . 4 pieces were bought in auctions to help Art League and SEWA (?) and all of them sold.  And so, we were expecting checks to be here.  There are no checks here so I’ve got to do something else today.  I will go in there and balance the books.  But at least we have the money.  The main thing right now is between the both of us, I say my wife but we actually live in sin because we cannot get married – if we get married, we lose one of our pensions.  Her husband died and my wife died so if one of us gets married, we lose one of the pensions.  So we do not get married.  And so, we have enough to pay our bills.  But we are married.  We have been through hell together.  And so, she is a good lady.  She is Scottish.  She has her degree in art.
So we went down and we found that in Mexico, they tell you don’t drive at night and be careful of where you go and all.  And we have actually been through there because I had a show in San Miguel de Allende with one of my galleries and we went down there like a week trip all the way down to San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato which is the hometown of President Fox who was in charge of it.  And man, that is really, really deep.  But I never travel the main roads.  That is a Texan. We drove all the way from Abilene from James Searles’ show at the Grace Museum, who is my best friend . . . had never, ever got on a freeway.  All the way back roads.  Little grey lines that do not even look like a road – that is the way I go.  You get some great images.  You run into stuff.  I drove on roads – you could tell no one had been on the road because there were just thousands of butterflies and birds just sitting in the middle of the road.  Yesterday, I got a beautiful shot of black magpies sitting in a field . . . we were reminded of Van Gogh’s “The Crow.”  It was great.  That is where I get my great images.  I cannot stand these expressways.  So, we do that but you have to be . . . so we ended up on that trip to San Miguel de Allende – I do what I shouldn’t do and I know better – you should never eat off of the little stands in Mexico.  They could eat it because the parasite, they will build up resistance.  We ate it and within 1 hour, I was in trouble.  I ended up doing a great series.  I saw an old man sitting like a mile off the road, I swear it looked like he was 1 mile off the road.  Sitting and waving.  And the line was covered with clothes.  So I stopped to take a picture and I waved, “Hey, how are you doing?”  He just waved and waved and waved.  And I drove off.  I said, “You know, something was not right about that.”  So, I drove like 1 mile down the road and turned around and came back.  I started walking across the field because it just did not seem right.  And sure enough, the closer I got, what had happened, he had been bitten, he said by a spider, and he was sitting in his chair.  I swear, he was like 2,000 or 3,000 . . . I mean, you could barely see him.  His leg . . . I’ve got a picture in the house.   I did show photographs about my trip to Mexico.  It was that big.  He could not walk.  It was gangrene, purple and black.  And so, we ended up calling the . . . coming out, going down the road, stopping a road crew and getting an ambulance to go and get him.  That was that morning. We were driving along.  And then, that evening, we pull off the side of the road on the old highway because I do not travel the new highways, and the goats and the horses and the chickens are crossing the old highway into Mexico. And we pull off the road to eat our tacos and stuff that I bought and immediately had to use the bathroom.  Get back in the car, turn it, nothing.  The car would not start. The car would not start.  Here I am in Mexico, it is getting to be night time, on a highway doing exactly what they tell you not to do.  Do not get caught.  A city truck comes by and they see us and I am waving.  He comes over.  So, I am the guy waving now, right?  And he says, “Well, what’s wrong?”  I said, “Well, something is wrong.”  They raised the hood.  This one was the ____.  Another guy said, “It is electrical,” or something.  He said, “I have a mechanic friend in the next town.”  He said, “I’ll take this.” 

cue point

So I let him take my generator off my car and after he left, I said, “Do you know what, Bert?  They’ve got you now!  They’ve got you.  You’ve just been had!”  Then, right after that, a truck came.  It was a state truck.  I told him the story about the guy.  He said, “That wasn’t good.”  He had his whole family in the car.  They had been to church or something.  He said, “Listen, I am going to go take my family home and I am coming back because this could not be a good thing because you are now stranded and you might be set up.”  But lo and behold, when he came back in about an hour from taking his family, the same time, the guy came back with the mechanic but they could not get the car started.  So we hooked up ropes to the car.  They all agreed, “We can’t leave you here on the highway.  We will take you into the next town.”  We got into the next town and we pull in . . . I mean, we are talking.  I speak Spanish because I lived in Spain for 8 years. We pull into this compound and we see . . . here Toby was an artist but I could not quite get it.  It was a circus troop.  There was a gorilla here and monkey here and the big vans and the trapeze artists. He was an artist.  He was a trapeze artist.  So they fed us and then they worked all night on the car.  And then, we had to leave and go down to the ATM and try to find a place, and then his car gave out.  And then, we were stranded again on the highway because his car ran hot and then I felt like we were getting set up again.  Here we are on the side of the road.  This is a setup.  But it wasn’t.  He said, “Did your wife, Joan, buy a big bottle of Coke?”  So, we took the Coke and the water, mixed it and put it and got the car and made it back after going with nefarious types standing around – I’m at an ATM machine with no lights in Mexico!  So, all of this is flashing when we are on this road, this gravel road, down going across farms that you have to open up the cattle guard, go through, go through, close it – about 8 or 9 of them.  And you finally get to this place.  The whole trip was worth it.  Literally 100 like Roman ruins of big blocks, the houses that had been flooded there.  And a church that they are bringing back, a big Catholic neoclassical thing that they are . . . it was incredible.  I shot a 4 gigabyte card full of shots.  So that happens to me all the time.  Now, the Bolivar project is happening.  So I take chances and I pay sometimes for it but I am living my life.  I found out a long time ago that the only security is what is the sense of living life if you are not really doing what you want to do and not having some fun while you are doing it?  That is basically what I do.  I have been fortunate but I work hard for it.  I mean, I do not feel like people give me . . . I think everything happens if you work hard. It never happens the way you expect it to happen.  You expect the checks to be there.  There are no checks.  All my life – I don’t care how much money I made – it never seems like I make . . . the money always has to run out.  It does not get to zero.  It has to go to zero and then go below zero, then the next money comes or something.

  And so, I have a good doctor at the VA. They are keeping me alive.  All my numbers are in pretty good shape.  On the 20th, I go for that.  I am working on all this writing.  I am real pleased with the Bolivar project.  The Jung project, I’ve got to get started on now that I have 20 new pieces to do for that.  There is something else I am forgetting.  But I also decided I now have to do something about this trip that I just took to Mexico.  I mean, I have to do something about this trip because when it disturbs me, that is what I work on.  And that is it.

cue point

DG:      So, you started here.  You were in the Marine Corps, you went to California, you went to Europe, all over.  You end up back here.  To the extent that our experiences make us who we are, what did you take with you when you left that was your Houston experience, that was your Fifth Ward experience?

BL:       I feel like that from Fifth Ward growing up in the situation that I have grown up in is probably perseverance and tenacity.  For me, I never see the glass half empty, I always see it half full.  I mean, if you grow up like me and there were days – we laugh about it now – where all we had in the house was 2 pieces of bread and we made sugar or mustard sandwiches because that is all we had.  That is all we had to eat.  So we had 2 pieces of bread and some sugar or 2 pieces of bread and some mustard, whatever was in the cupboard. We survived.  That is why I get upset with like my men about the food situation is that you go through things.  That is why I identify somewhat with Obama right now.  A lot of people, they just let that pass.  But when he mentioned that there was a time that his mother had to go on food stamps in order for them . . . well, twice in my life, for me to feed my family, I had to go on welfare.  I had to go get food stamps. There is no stigma.  My mother lived until she was 92.   I had another uncle that I used to go pick cotton . . . they just did a big story, a Fort Bend genealogist just did a big story on me and my family about my experience with the George Ranch just right up the street here because before I went to go work at the Houston Club, I used to go pick cotton every summer to buy my overalls and a flannel shirt to go to school every year.  And so, I understand hard work.  I understand reward.  Work hard.  Reward.  Do you understand?  Nobody is going to give it to you.  I  do not want anybody to give it to me.  All I want is the ability to do it.  If you do that, I will figure out how to succeed.  It is when I do all of that and I continually reach even right now glass ceilings because of my color or because of whatever, do you understand, that will infuriate me and get me upset, I function under the premise of a Sammy Davis, Jr. or James Baldwin in that, yes, I can.  Don’t tell me I can’t.  You want me to not do something?  Don’t tell me I can’t do it.  The best thing you can do is if you tell me I can’t do it, then that is enough excuse for me to do it right there.  “You should not do this.”  “Oh, O.K. Fine.”  Immediately!  And that is what I brought from Fifth Ward.

cue point

I found out a long time ago there are always people telling you what you cannot do and I am not talking about doing anything illegal or anything like that.  I am just saying I know history.  I have read history.  I look at all of the people that accomplish.  You know, it is like people sit around, they look at their television and the people that they admire and they want to be, they want the homes of the rock stars and the homes of the actresses and they want all of the accoutrements and everything and they want those things.  Do you understand?  But they neglect to read the story about . . . if you really study those actors, you find out that they waited tables and they shined shoes and t hey washed cars.  It wasn’t overnight success.  Very few stories . . . Betty Grable or whoever the young lady, sitting at the soda fountain and the director walked in and said, “Ah-ha.”  Usually, it is hard work.  So I understand that and that is what I brought.  It is not a problem.  My thing these days is to say, O.K., I am limited.  I have to pick and choose.  I cannot do everything.  We just had a long conversation on this trip, Joan and I, where I understand Rothco – they say maybe he committed suicide because he finally felt like there was a time in his life as an artist that he actually believed that his art would help make the world a better place.  And then, you live for 70, 80, 90 years and you find out that even if it does, in the scheme of things, even like the earth, in the scheme of things, the earth is not even as much when you start dealing with the cosmos and the galaxies and everything else.  If the earth tomorrow did not exist, what does it do?  I mean, what really counts?  Does it really even matter?  So when you look at it like that, then you are not disappointed.  I am never disappointed.  I get stuff dumped on me all the time just like everybody else in the world.  Things happen.  Hopefully nothing happens like some idiot – I say idiot, the man had problems, to just shoot and kill those soldiers.  Shot 31 people.  I mean, people are wired or screwed up and they do stuff they should not do.  Hopefully, nothing like that happens to me or my family or something but they do happen every day to somebody.  Every year, I have to stand and watch some lady or man and his family standing in the chest deep water saying, “I have lost everything.”  Not one year, every year.  Or the Tsunami, 250,000 people gone.  Or another typhoon.  Or another tornado down through Jakarta or something like that.  It happens.  Or you get in your car to go to the store and you don’t come home.  Every day, people go to work and they don’t come home.  So I have lived like there is always a tomorrow and I have a lot of things I want to do but I understand I might not be able to do them but that is no excuse to not do everything.  Try.  Every day I work, I tell people . . . a lot of artists come to talk to me and they want to know, “How do you become Bert Long?”  I am not bragging now.  “How do you get the attention?”  I say, “Well, you work hard, and then you get up and you work hard.  Understand that it is not this, it is this.  It is hills and valleys.”  Every day, in my whole life, I can honestly say that it is really about you wake up, you’ve got a problem.  You work hard to solve the problem or take care of the emergency that is at hand.  If you are lucky, somewhere before the next problem comes, you have a little fun.  Do you understand? 

cue point

You go to Mexico and you did not get robbed or you do something or you have a nice glass of wine with friends or whatever and you have a little fun.  And then, just get ready because the problem is going to come again or another problem.  That is all life this.  If you understand that, that is all life is.  And then, if you happen to have enough faith to believe that there is an afterlife, that could be a plus.  Like my mother said she believed in God.  Well, we had some hellacious arguments about that.  And I say it is not that I do not believe but if you believe like you say you believe, what are you worried about?  My philosophy is if it is something I have control over, why worry about it?  If it is something I do not have control over, why worry about it?  And that is the way I live.  Either I have control, it is something that I can manipulate or do something about or whatever, so I do not have to worry about it.  I work hard, I do something about it.  If it is something I do not have control about, not to worry about it either.  And that works.  That works.  So, every day I wake up, I spend 29 hours a day working on my career and that is what I tell young artists and other people – that I work 29 hours a day on my career and some days go good, some days do not go good.  Tomorrow is another day, if I have another day, and hopefully there is a little fun in between.  That is the way I live.  It works.  There is no sense in sitting around crying in your soup, in other words.    

DG:      This is a terrific place to stop but in each of these interviews, we have asked the question of everyone and I want to ask it of you, too.  The question is if you perceive a unique spirit to Houston, a unique character to Houston, how would you define that character?

BL:       Well, I call it . . . the fact that it does have a spirit . . . it has an entrepreneurial spirit that, yes I can, I can do anything here.  And you still can.  This is one of the places that you still can have the American dream and go and make it happen.  There are some places man, and Houston has to watch itself because it is like, I will give you an example.  They looked at New York.  When I go to New York, one of the first things I want do is go find me a tin cart sitting on the corner that I can get me a snack.  You cannot do that in Houston because they tried to do the hotdog stands in Houston and they set up so many rules and regulations that nobody could afford to own a hotdog stand that they came up and said you can sell hotdogs from.  It is like having zero tolerance in schools and an Eagle Scout shows up with his little kit that has a knife in it and you are going to expel him from school, or a kid leans over and kisses a girl and you expel him, a 5-year-old kid?  Zero tolerance.  I mean, that is stupid.  Do you understand?  We are given brains to think. We are supposed to be able to be human and reason and think around problems.  Do you understand?  I am not saying that we should have some nasty ass cart that is dirty and serve people hotdogs from, but you are supposed to be able to find a way to deal with stuff that will make it work both ways.  In Mexico, they live off of stands on the corner – those people down there.  Every corner has 15 people with a stand selling something.  And those people live on that, get a big stomach.  But Houston still has that entrepreneurial spirit that if you have an idea, you can still come here.  The other really great thing about Houston is that you can afford to live here.  I would like to live in New York.  This place would cost me one million dollars in a mortgage in New York.  That is probably upstate somewhere.  Freezing.  But you can still have a reasonable mortgage and you still have space in Houston.  You can still have a backyard and have that connection with people here; whereas in places like New York, they have done films of where you stop someone on the street and try to get directions, they won’t talk to you.

cue point

  Here, you stop someone on the street and you have to say, “Oh, I’ve got to go now,” because they keep talking to you!  “Wait a minute, I’ve got some more to tell you!”  That is the difference.  And so, I find the spirit of livability here and the entrepreneurial spirit here and that the friendliness, the genuine friendliness that this part of the world still offers compared t some other places, that you don’t have, that is what I find different here.  But there are other things here I just detest.  I mean, I do not think African Americans have been able to profit here, say, like they have been able to in Atlanta.  We still do not own anything here.  Yes, some people are making some . . . I was at a River Oaks home the other night of a black family that lives on Kirby.  It is not one of the little side streets.  It is a big mansion with the white pillared things.  They have been there for 15 years.  They can afford to be there.  Do you know what I am saying?  So there are exceptions and there are possibilities here but when I look at the national stature of African Americans in comparison to other regions . . . you know, when they have to watch riots and all of the things, they brag about the fact that we did not have them here.  The fact that it did not happen here was not for the right reasons, in other words.  In other words, there is no such thing as nonbloody revolution.  You are going to have strife.  I talk to my wife sometimes . . . last night with my man here that works for me, the way – I deal straight and sometimes you can be tactful or you can tip-toe around the problem.  Sometimes, you have to deal with the problem.  Now, I like to see more being not confrontational --- I would just like the reality of why don’t we have equality in a lot of ways in Houston when it comes to my race?  That is being contrary because I have had people say, “Well, what are you talking about, Bert?  Who has done any more than you in the art world?  Who has had more rewards than you?”  I said, “You cannot use me as an example.   I am not talking about me.  I am talking about all of us.  Do you understand?  The same problems that I see in Fifth Ward, the same groups and the same that I had when I was a kid, they are still here.  No improvement.  They are still here.  And so, what I am saying is that until we have really, like James Baldwin says, “until we solve,” and some people would debate this book because we now have Obama as president and everything. Until the racial problems in America are solved, America will never become America.  Do you understand?  And that, for me in Houston, I would like to imagine that from an economic standpoint, there could be more equality.  I have to deal with it in the art world.  I have to deal with it in the art world.

cue point

  In the whole of the art world, we do not have a black superstar.  We have Basquet  (sp?) who died of a drug overdose, etc., that they are not getting incredible prices for in the superstar level.  But we have no linen black artists.  We have Martin Perrier that gets $1 million a painting.  One million dollars for a painting is nothing in the art world.  Literally, Richard Sierra is getting a $20 million commission.  Jeff  Koonz.  Kids out of college are getting $400,000, $500,000.  I have had 3 curators come in and say, “Why is this painting in the Museum?”  It is a great painting.  It is one of the best paintings there has ever been.  I mean, I can say that.  It is.  Do you understand?  But I have done good.  I had some good years making money but art careers as well as with everything else, if it was just about talent, no problem.  But it is not.  It is about a lot of other things beyond talent as to whether you will be successful.  And so, I would like to see some economic adjustments in this part of the world as far as . . . I found out when I won the Rome Prize and I drove to New York and I told someone, I said, “You know, I just drove across the middle of America and I did not even see a black person pumping gas.  Now, O.K., we cannot . . . just like we found out with bussing kids to school.  We cannot take and transfer blacks, too, but I did understood why we have the hour caucuses. Do you understand?  For the elections.  It does not reflect what America is.  Do you understand?  So, along those lines, along those lines that is the way I think.   I think I am doing great.  I think some great things have happened.  Economically, I have had to deal with glass ceilings, not because of my talent but basically we still have not reached the level we want to pay black artists the price that we pay white artists.  I mean, that is being very level in the whole thing.  It is not just Bert Long sour grapes sitting here saying this because I am looking at statistically across the whole art world, we do not have . . . now, everything is growing and changing. We have had incredible strides in every sector.  I mean, the fact that Obama is there.  Everything.  Everything is moving so fast now that it gets a little scary.  It gets scary because every other . . . historically, we can save when society has reached this point.  Basically, it is gone.  It is Rome, it is Spain, it is Great Britain.  They are gone.  And technically, America is gone, do you understand, except America is like AIG and the other companies – it is too bit to fail. I will leave it on that part.  It is too big to fail and so consequently, everybody else is in the game.  They are not going to let it fail because  . . . right now, China – if we don’t have America, what does China have?  Do you know what I mean?  That is where we are. That is the way we are.  Whiskey is O.K., you know, but what we need . . . that is the lesson we need to learn. The lesson is, is that the only way we are all going to survive is that we all are not like this, we all are like this working everybody in the same direction.  I think it is atrocious that we have insurance companies spending $400 million to keep from having a health plan.  It is not about health care for America, it is about money.  It is not about the welfare of the people.  That is what atrocious about it.  That is what makes me mad. Those kinds of things.  Listen, everybody is not a Bert Long and everybody is not an Obama.  Now, don’t tell me about . . . just pull myself up by my boot straps. Most people do well to wake up in the morning at 8 o’clock and get their kids off to school and hopefully do not have too many problems because it will screw them up.  That is the problem because people will tend to point to  Sydney Poitier or someone else and say, “But look, look, you can’t.”  No.  I am talking about the average Joe.  The average person.  The average person needs to have a level playing field.  We should not be working kids to death for McDonalds and paying them . . . they are working 8, 10, 12 hours a day but they are not making a wage that they can take care.  There are grown people working at McDonalds that need a living wage.  We don’t need to be making Nike’s  in another country and then selling them here for $200 for Air Jordans and paying the workers substandard wages, $1 a month, in another country. I am through, but I am just saying – that is where I come out with all of it.  When are we going to understand, and my wife and I were talking about this and it is disturbing to me as I get older – like I say, I am making 70 now – if anything is disturbing me now, it is like Rothco -- I am not going to commit suicide. I am going to be here to harass people forever!  Do you understand?  Mankind, you would hope that we would reach the point where we say, Eureka, no more strife, no more war.  What we are going to do is we are going to solve these problems, we are going to be good, we are going to do . . . and what you understand when you get to my age is that there always will be war because it is a money-making machine and we need to make war so we can sell the planes and we need the tanks.  So we say we want peace but do we want peace?  And I will end it on that.