Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Laurence Platt Autobiography

Napa Valley, California, USA

June 12, 2003
Reposted February 16, 2020

This essay, Laurence Platt Autobiography, is the story of my life. The story of my life isn't who I am. Who I am is Conversations For Transformation inspired by the ideas of Werner Erhard. Sooner or later the story of my life will be told. I want to support it being told accurately.

This essay is the first in a hexalogy comprising The Laurence Platt Story:
  1. Laurence Platt Autobiography
  2. Laurence Platt Autobiography II
  3. Laurence Platt Intersections
  4. Laurence Platt Photo Album
  5. Laurence Platt And Associates
  6. Gratitude
in that order.

It is also is the prequel to Laurence Platt Autobiography II.

The Laurence Platt Story is the prequel to Wherever I Went, There I Was.

I am indebted to John "Johnny" Ince who requested I write this account.

John "Johnny" Ince     Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA     Laurence Platt
John "Johnny" Ince Laurence Platt


Johnny made me do it.

For many years I toyed with the idea of writing my autobiography.

John "Johnny" Ince, who was one of my SACS High School teachers and who is now one of my friends, told me he recognized me as someone who had made it  in the world (he is such a charmer, that guy ...), and he asked me to write an autobiographical sketch for the SACS Old Boys' Union website.

SACS (for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym) stands for South African College School where I spent 12 years of my life. It was all boys and (in those days) all white. By any standards compared to similar institutions, it was a brilliant school.

Johnny really had to twist my arm to do it, but eventually I relented and I wrote it for him.

This is it. This is what I wrote for Johnny.

However, by definition  any autobiography is a work in progress. So it is with mine: it's "to be continued ...".

But that, as they say, is another story* altogether.

Laurence Platt Autobiography

ended for me with the matriculation celebrations of 1967. I spent the next three years through 1970 living in Claremont in a hippie commune known as "The Penthouse" while studying for a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Cape Town aka UCT majoring in psychology with a minor in mathematical statistics. At UCT I established Rag Radio on the campus. Rag Radio was the predecessor of UCT Radio which still broadcasts today in Cape Town on 104.5 FM. Back then, before we had compact disks (CDs) we had long playing vinyl albums (LPs - the same initials as mine). I was Rag Radio's main disk jockey and I really enjoyed DJ-ing. My standard introduction on the air was: "Good morning, girls and boys of the campus! This is your LP DJ LP  bringing you the latest and the greatest and the up-to-datest sounds on Rag Radio!".

All of those influences left long, lasting, wonderful impressions on me. All we needed was Love ... and the activities we engaged in casually in those days would kill us today. They were great years - arguably the last years of our innocence.

1971 found me hitchhiking around South Africa with extended stays at the surfing beaches along the coast, learning how to hang ten and to mellow out. In May of that year I worked as a custodian at The National Gallery, making enough money to pay for an air ticket to Paris and R100.00 in travelers checks which was worth something in those days but is only worth about $10.00 US today. Arriving in Paris at midnight I began to play my flute at the side of the Champs‑Élysées. Passers by threw enough coins into my upturned cap on the sidewalk to generate the money I needed to get myself to London.

In London, various modeling gigs ensued. I appeared in Pepsi Cola commercials, managed an art gallery, worked on a farm in Kent, and later joined forces with a group of friends to pool our meagre resources to purchase a Volkswagen Kombi camper to drive across Europe to Kössen, Austria, where we studied for a month with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to The Beatles, and the source of Transcendental Meditation. Maharishi, to this day, is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever had the good fortune to meet. His rendering of ancient Vedic law  from the original Sanskrit  into plain, understandable English is truly remarkable. If Maharishi isn't candidated for a Nobel prize for his work, he should at least be candidated for sainthood.

After returning to London I found well paying work again in movies, then hitchhiked from London through France and Spain, explored Barcelona for a while before crossing over to Mallorca in the Balearic Islands where I worked for Maharishi, who was already in residence there, for five months. My duties included cooking meals for him under the watchful eye of Hari Har Khan, Maharishi's impish chef who traveled with him everywhere. I then enrolled in a course with Maharishi for a further five months of meditation. When Maharishi later moved to Fiuggi in Italy he invited me to go along with him.

In June of 1972 I returned to South Africa and set up shop in Johannesburg teaching Transcendental Meditation and hatha yoga  to about five hundred people at the local center.

At the start of 1973 I returned to Cape Town and, not certain which direction to go next, I re-enrolled at UCT for another year of study. I chose mathematical statistics which I pursued as a 9:00am to 1:00pm job. I never took any work home. I never worked on weekends. And, except for practicals, I never worked in the afternoons which I kept open for what I loved best: the gentle art of surfing. I graduated with honors - in both mathematical statistics as well as in surfing.

Then followed another six months of eclectic activities. I managed the "Tui Ting", a macrobiotic restaurant on Loop Street. Starting in October of 1974 I drove Mercedes-Benz limousines for Grosvenor Tours, then worked at De Hoop, an organic farm in Agter Paarl, then joined the production team at the Nico Malan Opera House as a lighting technician.

The show we produced, "Holiday Spectacular", toured South Africa with extended stays in Johannesburg and Durban. I began dating Marilyn Joye Grant-Smith, a dancer in the cast. We traveled around South Africa with the show. When the run ended, Marilyn and I flew to London together then to Paris where, in July of 1975, the svelte, long-legged Marilyn was hired to join Les Bluebelle Girls, the infamous topless dancing troupe at Le Lido de Paris Cabaret, and I as a lighting technician. Le Lido de Paris Cabaret, the crown jewel of the company which also owned the Crazy Horse and the Moulin Rouge cabarets, was the most famous cabaret in the world. Paris by night is an experience not to miss. I was fortunate enough to live it for six months working a regular nine to five - but at night ie 9:00pm through 5:00am. There I was, a small town boy, underground  in Paris, France, at 3:00am in the morning working the spotlights at Le Lido de Paris Cabaret when, routinely, a bare breasted girl rode by on a camel within inches of my face. It was totally surreal.

Marilyn and I then traveled through Europe again. I got work as a conductor on the trains on which we traveled. We ended up in the Greek Islands, then sailed to Geneva, Messina, and on through the Straits of Gibraltar to Cape Town. Marilyn, being a New Zealander (she was a "Miss New Zealand" pageant winner), returned to New Zealand.

Convinced I had made a mistake letting her go, I went back to surfing while working at the original Golden Spur steakhouse to pay for an engagement ring and more travelers checks. After hitchhiking to Durban to board a cruise ship there, I sailed to Australia, stopping off in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, then across the Tasman Sea to Auckland, New Zealand which its residents (known as "Kiwis") affectionately call "Godzone", a triple pun on God zone, God's zone, and God's own.

I joined IBM  (International Business Machines) as a programmer on Monday April 5, 1976. Marilyn and I were married on Sunday May 29, 1976 in New Zealand in the picturesque War Memorial Church in Eskdale near Napier which is in the Hawkes Bay area, New Zealand's wine country. During a nice celebration following the wedding ceremony I toasted Marilyn and our guests, comparing the small towns of New Zealand with the small towns of South Africa where I grew up, saying: "What the small towns in both countries have in common is they're so dry that when the traffic lights turn green, the sheep eat them ...". Budda bing  budda boom!  After the ceremony Marilyn and I drove off in an e-type  Jaguar convertible on loan from a generous and trusting friend.

For various reasons, Marilyn and I soon split up. Two of the worst years of my life followed. The sudden, unexpected breakup of my marriage put me into an emotional tailspin. "If I was wrong about that, something I was so certain  about" the question kept on plaguing me, "then what else  which I think I am sure of  am I also deluding myself about?". It was total and continuous self-sabotage. I became apathetic. But it was more than I didn't care. It was worse than that, much worse. I didn't care, and I didn't care that I didn't care.

The saving grace of that time was my work with IBM. Having nothing to do in the evenings and having even less interest in doing it, I simply remained at my desk at IBM. Once the work of the day was complete I began to delve deeper and deeper into the heart of what drives computers. The two years I spent with IBM in New Zealand were the equivalent of two back to back PhD degrees in computer science from a reputable university. I didn't yet know how I would profit from that until much, much later.

IBM also sent me on missions to Australia and to the United States on whose soil I first set foot in the morning of Thursday March 31, 1977 in Honolulu Hawai'i where I had enough time to explore Pearl Harbor before flying to California. I spent my first night in the continental United States at the home of old family friends at 308 North Gertruda Avenue in Redondo Beach. Early the next morning, we set out for Disneyland in Anaheim. Once I experienced the United States I knew my destiny was there and that I would do anything I could to be there permanently. In my spare time I found a company who promised me employment and sponsorship which would guarantee me a green card.

The American green card authenticated my fifth country of permanent residence: the United States of America. I was born British in London England, within earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow church which defines me as a cockney. I've qualified for permanent residence in South Africa, France, and New Zealand. I've now fulfilled the requirements of becoming a permanent resident of five countries (Great Britain, South Africa, France, New Zealand, and the United States of America) and a citizen of two: Great Britain and the United States of America. I'm a dual national.

I returned from the United States to New Zealand, gave one month's notice to IBM, following which I set out for the United States again via what I planned on being a two week vacation in the Fiji Islands where I would finalize my American visa. I cleared that before I left New Zealand with both the American ambassadors in Wellington, the administrative capital of New Zealand, and Suva, the capital of the Fiji Islands. However, after I arrived in Fiji there was an inexplicable yet fortuitous delay processing my American visa paperwork. Without a valid visa to continue on to and enter the United States, I ended up marooned in the Fiji Islands for a year.

Ah! The lost year  in the the Fiji Islands ... My hair grew long and matted. My skin was tanned dark, dark brown. Most of my clothes were bleached white by the ferocious tropical sun. I stayed with locals in their bures  (grass huts). I was befriended by Fijian royalty who took me to their private islands. I swam and dived in the palm tree necklaced and coral reef festooned blue lagoons so often that eventually I could stay underwater for three minutes on one breath, grabbing onto turtles as they swam by to be taken wherever they wished to take me. Women threw themselves at me. From time to time when esteem sapping island fever  got to me, I took pleasure there. Yet mostly I was strangely disinterested.

In January of 1978 I was visiting one of the outer islands when a radio broadcast told us a category three cyclone named Bob was headed our way (cyclones in any given season are named in alphabetical order). They're called "cyclones" in the south Pacific ocean, "typhoons" in the north Pacific ocean, and "hurricanes" in the Atlantic ocean. The boat that brought me there quickly left to safer harbor on the main island of Viti Levu. I hid myself on the island, a stowaway in reverse, until I was totally certain it was gone, preferring to stay with the locals and take my chances with and experience a real cyclone up close.

It raged for three full days. Its sustained one hundred miles an hour winds literally tore the island apart. Sand from the beach whizzed by so fast it cut skin. We wore diving goggles to protect our eyes. Then just as the cyclone storm surge threatened to submerge the entire island and I had tied myself to a forty four gallon gasoline barrel with a length of rope in case I had to fend for myself in the open sea, two things happened: one, the cyclone passed, and two, through a radio telephone incoming call I learned my American visa was ready. That telephone call was certainly one of the most bizarre telephone calls I've ever received, given the circumstances.

Not being entirely certain anymore that leaving the tropical splendor of Fiji for the United States was such a good idea, I left anyway in February of 1978, and for the next two years I lived in Mill Valley in Marin County north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge, writing computer programs in APL (A Programming Language) for the company that sponsored me, Scientific Time Sharing Corporation, after which in May of 1979 I continued writing APL applications for IP Sharp Associates at their San Francisco Bay Area headquarters in the picturesque Ghirardelli Square.

But apparently the wanderlust had not yet left me. I found myself in New Orleans hitching a ride on a freighter through the Caribbean Sea with stays in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and on to Cape Town. Back in South Africa, surfing called me again, in June of 1981 to manage a surf shop in Plettenberg Bay and to surf Jeffrey's Bay. Then I was offered a job administering a bridge building site at The Crags.

Photography by Laurence Platt

Arch Rock, Keurboomsstrand,
Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

5:12:05pm Friday October 2, 1981
Paradise Lane
The experience of building what became known as the Salt River Bridge was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. By day I drove a bakkie  (that's Afrikaans for "pick up truck") and managed a team of eight hundred black migrant workers, many of whom were old enough to be my father.

In my private time I lived in a Gypsy caravan, the South African equivalent of an Airstream trailer, which I towed to and parked on a sand dune overlooking the famed Arch Rock at the furthest east end of the paradise beach called Keurboomsstrand. I called the track from the beach up the sand dune to my caravan "Paradise Lane". This was my home. I lived here. I loved here. I had a powerful experience of God here.

When political difference raised its ugly head, I resigned that job and took a position of trade representative with AECI Paints starting Thursday October 1, 1981 selling Dulux, Duco, and Rock Grip  paints door to door along the Garden Route. I returned to Cape Town early in 1982, living briefly on Almond Street in Fernwood Estate (John Lennon and Yoko Ono's album "Double Fantasy" provided the background soundtrack). And while living on Almond Street, based on my experience with IBM, on Tuesday April 13, 1982 I started work at the Old Mutual, the largest life insurance company in Africa, converting their static batch processing mainframe computers to interactive machines.

Photography by Laurence Platt

Cape Town, South Africa

8:10:09am Friday May 14, 1982
View from #1 St Mungo, 40 Victoria Road, First Beach, Clifton
Later I was "in the right place at the right time" to rent the dream place right on the sands of First Beach Clifton in a block of flats called St Mungo  at 40 Victoria Road where, inspired by surfing my paddle-ski around rocks festooned with families of sea lions, on a whim I aced the Mensa test. Clifton's exquisitely beautiful beachscape and idyllic lifestyle was also the backdrop for my brief love affair with the gentle yet adrenalin pumping art of skydiving. It was here, out of that experience, I produced my thesis BREAKTHROUGH SKYDIVING.

Computer programming by night, surfing by day. It was perfect ... and yet  ... on my drives to and from this idyllic place, there on the horizon was Robben Island where Nelson Mandela languished doing thirty years of hard labor in solitary confinement.

When that contract completed in January of 1984, the USA called me back again. This time I returned slowly via South America with extended stopovers in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. In Iquitos, Peru, I met a man who took me via pocketa-pocketa  boat (they're called that because of the noise their outboard motor makes) deep into the heart of the Amazon Jungle where I befriended the people of the Yawa tribe who live on the Tamshiyaku delta. They allowed me to stay with them as they were building an extension to their village, and I offered to assist - the wages I asked for were food and a place to sleep.

Culturally it was an extraordinary time. The Yawas are human beings like you and I, yet have never seen a newspaper, have never tasted Pepsi Cola, have never bought (or sold) mutual funds ...

Some of their practices were foreign to me. I could not, for example, accept their chief's daughter at a ceremony as an "offering" for my pleasure. I did, however, participate in a ritual where a vile tasting liquid was passed around which we all sipped. At some point in the evening, I think I became the eye of an eagle flying miles and miles above the delta, seeing everything in every direction with crystal clarity ... but I can never be sure: it may have just been my imagination.

I returned to San Francisco, and on Wednesday May 23, 1984 Pacific Bell the local telephone company offered me a contract to write VM/CMS  software (Virtual Machine / Conversational Monitoring System aka Cambridge  Monitoring System). During my tenure there, my friend Werner Erhard, an American Zen master, introduced me to Jolin Beth Halstead who was to become my second wife. She was a very successful entrepreneur in her own right. She was the one who suggested I stop working for the telephone company and instead start my own business. Following her lead I completed my contract with Pacific Bell then worked with her in her international events production company, EpicEvents Productions.

Photography by Soldier Of Fortune Magazine

Hayvenhurst Avenue, Encino, California, USA

May 1985
with Joseph Jackson
For a year we worked with Michael Jackson and his family, eventually producing an art auction at their home in Southern California to benefit the Reverend Frank Chikane's South African Council of Churches and people displaced by apartheid.

One evening in the kitchen at Michael Jackson's I was talking with his father Joseph, his mother Katherine, his brother Jermaine, and his sister Janet. I mentioned to Jermaine that after working with his family we would be taking some time off in Paris. He got so wistful and said: "Do you know how much I wish I could go somewhere and just relax and be unrecognized?". That was during the peak of the Jackson Five fame.

Of all the Jacksons, I enjoyed Katherine most of all. She is a beautiful, dignified, clear woman. She is a devout Jehovah's Witness. As we talked and walked the acreage of their Encino estate, she allowed me to carry her Bible.

After that, I created Laurence Platt and Associates, a mainframe software training company.

"LP and A", as it came to be known, enjoyed sudden and phenomenal success. In short order I was presenting software seminars all over the United States and Canada to many of the Fortune 500 group of companies. From 1984 through my retirement in 2002 I had as many as five requests a week from corporations to train their technical staff. At that point I was arguably the most sought after and the most hired software trainer in the world.

When I met Jolin's family I learned her Dad served as the President of the Ford Motor Company in various cities around the world. He was personally responsible for the acquisition of Jaguar by Ford, a purchase he had to enroll the board to invest two and a half billion dollars in. Interestingly enough given my background, he was also personally responsible for the divestiture of Ford from South Africa as the Ford Motor Company's stand against apartheid. It explained why his daughter was able to keep up with me. In almost all my other relationships I eventually felt like a caged animal and had to break out and be free. Jolin, however, based on vast travel and international experience herself, gave me all the freedom I wanted, treating me like a wild horse who needed a lot of room to move. And in the total freedom she gave me I could not get enough of her. We have now been passionately happily married for nearly sixteen years.

In 1986 I also realized a fantasy of mine: to act in a Hollywood movie. The movie was "Fortune Dane" starring Carl Weathers who has appeared with Sylvester Stallone in the "Rocky" series and with Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Predator". But by far my biggest thrill when shooting began was to learn Joe Dallesandro was also acting in the movie.

In the 1960s Joe Dallesandro was one of Andy Warhol's troop of actors. I had seen every one of his jaw droppingly risqué performances. I idolized him. To then - twenty years later - get to act with him was mind boggling. When the opportunity arose and we were on the set together, I nervously walked up to him to introduce myself to him and to tell him how much I enjoyed his early work. Before I could speak, his demure face lit up into a one hundred watt smile. He held out his hand to me and said: "You look like a nice guy! I'm Joe.".

The movie, a classic B-grade, went straight to video and convinced me, finally, that I preferred real life to acted life. I never pursued movies or acting again after that.

On Tuesday June 20, 1989 I bought a home in northern California's Napa Valley, the wine country, where we raised three gorgeous children: Alexandra Lindsey who is named after at least fifteen people in my family with the initials AP (Alexandra means the healer and defender of mankind)  as well as after her grandfather Lindsey; Christian Laurence who is named after me (my first choice of a middle name for Christian was Franklin  in honor of the sublime and brilliant Zen education I received in Werner Erhard's Franklin House  in San Francisco); and Joshua Nelson - we simply liked the name Joshua (in the Old Testament Joshua slew the demon Amalek), and Nelson is after Nelson Mandela and also after his great grandfather Nelson Lodge (Henry Cabot Lodge was a long time friend and confidant of President Theodore Roosevelt).

Soon after Christian was born I fulfilled a ten year intention and received baptism by full immersion in the Merced River in the Yosemite Valley under the sheer granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.

When June of 2002 rolled around, I was sitting on a beach towel on the shores of Lake Charlevoix in the Great Lakes area of northern Michigan where Jolin's family has one of their three homes. Alexandra was about to ride a jetski. Suddenly my mind flashed back ten years to that same spot on the beach when Alexandra was a babe and I was changing her diaper. It had seemed, literally, like a split second had gone by that the babe was now riding a jetski, and I realized in another such split second she would be in her early twenties and would leave us to lead her own life.

In that moment I realized I would retire and disband a successful Laurence Platt and Associates in favor of staying home with my wife and my children so I could enjoy them closely and completely until all three children had flown the nest. At fifty two I had declared myself to be unemployed.

And now it's June of 2003. And this is where you find me. I love being a full time Dad. I suppose that given the traditional role you could call me a full time Mom. I suppose you could say that my children have two full time Moms. It seems to be working. Alexandra is a 4.0 average, and Christian and Joshua are talented and gifted children.

While they're at school I like to ride my bicycle through the vineyards in this beautiful valley to stay fit. I like to ride twice a day, twenty kilometers each ride. Then it's time to fetch my children from their schools and take them to whatever's next in their day.

When my children are grown and leave this home I created for them, I'll create the next thing for us to do in life. I don't now know what that will be - I do know I'll think of something.

Laurence Platt

*   This essay, Laurence Platt Autobiography, is the story of my life through Thursday June 12, 2003. Its sequel, Laurence Platt Autobiography II, provides more detail to my pre-university years and to the path I've traveled through which I can lay claim to having circumnavigated the globe. It also includes the end of my second marriage and the years immediately following featuring the incredible sojourn in the amazing Cowboy Cottage.

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