Point of View: The Lone Defender

“From the Mountaintop.”

    I saw a film the other night, “Riding the Rails,” and, on re-reading some of my old interviews this weekend, I came serendipitously upon one with Alex F. Dzieman, whom many of you, I hope, may remember as “The Lone Defender” on our letters pages years ago, whose letters were signed “From the Mountaintop.”

    “. . . Mr. Dzieman, who was born in Sag Harbor, reared in Southampton, and who left school at 14 to go to work, said that he and two friends, Joe Arnister and Johnny Miller, ventured forth in 1937 from the Secaucus, N.J., railroad yards, and journeyed to just about all but the New England states and Georgia on top of, within, and in between box cars.”

    “ ‘It was very, very educational,’ Mr. Dzieman said of hoboism. ‘I think I learned more there than at any other time in my life. You learned to love thy neighbors, or get the hell knocked out of you. . . . I couldn’t say there was any meanness. Nobody carried knives or guns. There were so many decent people, so much you had to learn. One thing I learned from the road was to share, to help others out.’ ”

    “ . . . Returning here, at the age of 26, he caddied for a season at Montauk Downs, the former Montauk Beach Company golf course, and recalled fondly the fishing village at Fort Pond Bay: ‘It was beautiful. Their homes were shacks, but it was beautiful.’ ”

    “ ‘The goddam old-timers were nice people. They were Swedes and Norwegians mostly. The wives worked along with their husbands. They were beautiful girls. They could put a dory out to sea like the men, but they still had the human instinct. They were very lovable, even with their boots on,’ he said with a laugh.”

    “. . . ‘Nothing’s changed with the baymen, the clamdiggers, the scallopers, the Bonackers. These people never change. There’s no ostentation of wealth, no show-off. The snow might be blowing through the walls, but they share what they have. It’s a way of life.’ ”

    “Asked what he viewed as man’s worst failing, Mr. Dzieman, lighting up a cigarillo, said, ‘Worry about oneself too much . . . I think you never develop character unless you’re around poor people. Money is not the question — it’s not a life. . . . The worst Town is East Hampton. People there are very greedy and selfish. I call them foreigners. Brother Ev calls them second-home owners, I think.’ ”

    “As for his letter-writing, he said that he kept in his truck a pad for notes. On the Mountaintop he begins a letter to the editor, usually with a pen, works it over, sometimes for a few days, types it, and reads it aloud, memorizing it ‘word for word’ in the process. ‘It keeps me mentally occupied.’ ”

    “ ‘I must have ideas for 180 letters to the editor,’ he said, and confessed, ‘I started off long-winded. I try all the time now to condense. It’s trial-and-error with me. I have to do it the hard way. I try to develop my own way of writing. If I went to high school and college, I’d be what my professor taught me to be. I think it’s better this way.’ ”

    “. . . Asked why he called the Star’s editor Brother Ev, Mr. Dzieman replied, ‘If we treated everybody as a brother, we wouldn’t have this trouble. He gives me a chance to express my thoughts. He must be a nice guy. . . .’ ”