“There is truth and then again there is truth. For all that the world is full of people who go around believing they've got you or your neighbor figured out, there really is no bottom to what is not known. The truth about us is endless. As are the lies.” — “The Human Stain” by Phillip Roth
I spot him with his shock of white hair, 1950s black plastic rimmed sunglasses and worn windbreaker.
He calls himself by Tap, but his given name is Robert Stanley Tapolow.
That name’s complicated being a Jew from Brooklyn. Tapolowski is the family’s Russian line.
He is greeting people coming into Mayor’s 2020 Art Show at the Newport Visual Arts Center in Nye Beach. He’s pleased with the number of people attending. He listens intently to all the artists describing their work, philosophies and dances with their muses.
For others in Newport, they might see Tap walking laps at Fred Meyer, seven days a week, early, before 8 am.
Tap will have iPhone next to his ear, while he bops in his version of a grocery store power walk with his head bobbing to “Soul Sacrifice” by Carlos Santana.
“The people there, stocking, they have no qualms about me doing this. They love it. I love it. Three weeks ago, I had a revelation: ‘What am I missing?’ It was the walking.”
Our conversation meanders back and forth from his love of Newport and the ocean, to his days growing up and working on the East Coast, then to his days in Florida.
He’s 69, a survivor of a heart attack, survivor of Woodstock, survivor of an East Coast brash sensibility. He has been a permanent resident of Newport, and if one could bottle up his enthusiasm for the town, or for the entire area — the Pacific shores, incredible smashing waves, the forest meeting the sea kind of lifestyle — he’d be a Chamber of Commerce’s best recruiting weapon.
These Deep Dives go many places. I harvest all manner of stories from all sorts of people/characters/residents through serendipity, word of mouth and reputation.
Tap repeatedly tells me he is now through-and-through an Oregon Coastie, but his walkabout on Earth is mostly rooted to the East Coast — New York state, The Big Apple, Rochester, Minnesota and Florida. I’ve got my own family roots in Northampton and Boston, Massachusetts, Philly, New Jersey and Delaware.
As I have learned during probably several thousand oral histories of family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, I know we can’t judge a book or person by his or her immediate circumstances. Anyone who has had family emigrating through Ellis Island or across the US-Mexico border to me is an intriguing person chock full of history and intrigue, as well as usually a survivor of suffering and salvation.
Tap and I talk about what it means to turn 70 soon; how he sees our world through a recovering alcoholic’s lens (he hasn’t had a drink in 33 years); and the ins and outs of being a bachelor in a rural community.
Three times I ask him if he’s fine with my level of scrutiny into his life and turning into a published work.
“I’m totally fine with it. I have no qualms and have nothing to hide. Sometimes getting out of your shell can be liberating.”
We weave back and forth in the getting-to-know-our-coastal-resident called Tap. His life doesn’t start with the Mayo Clinic, clogged arteries, one stent, and a diet and exercise regimen. Life for him doesn’t begin when he is married in the 1990s and raising two children, Rosalina and Gilbert (Stretch) — 25 and 28 respectively. Life doesn’t start as an adult basic education instructor in Florida working in nursing homes and memory care facilities.
He’s indicating that Newport and the Oregon Coast are where a newfound chapter in his life starts a mere four years ago, though he reiterates a trip out here with his children in 2009 got him hooked on the beach, on Newport.
From Russia with love
His grandfather David was an Odessa, Russia, émigré who ended up in Warsaw in 1898 before disembarking on Ellis Island.
“Granddad Dave was a rabbi in Russia. Couldn’t speak English when he got here. In New York, there weren’t enough Russians to support a temple,” Tap says with a gleam in his eye.
Dave went to Central Park, found the mounted police, and ended up becoming a farrier for the NYPD. “Those years in Russia weren’t talked about,” Tap says. “By the time 1950 came around, he looked like he was an 86-year-old man. He’s always looked like an 86-year-old man.”
There are Russian cousins and uncles. Dave’s cousin came to Miami in the 1970s and delivered milk. “His medical license from Russia wasn’t recognized in the US.” This man’s son became a respected cardiologist in San Francisco. His Russian émigré father went back to school and practiced medicine in the US after delivering milk.
Tap was born in Croton, New York, where his father Gilbert ran a sporting goods store — Ramsey’s. Three years after he was born, the family moved to Fair Lawn, New Jersey, where Tap attended Radburn Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Junior high school.
There were four boys in the family, each one dancing to the beat of a different drummer.
Tap went to Rutgers University to major in psychology and business. That was 1968. His father, at 50, died of a heart attack that year. “He worked seven days a week. He was a real good father. Dad was the coolest guy in my life.”
Steve, who Tap says, “was the artist in the family, the cool one, the James Dean,” stole a car with three buddies and ended up in West Virginia.” Tap’s other brother, Harvey, went to medical school in Ohio, eventually becoming a psychiatrist. “He played the banjo. Played with Mary Travers before she gained fame as Peter Paul and Mary. In fact, the band asked my brother to tour with them on the road.”
For Tap, looking up to Al and idolizing Steve the natural born artist, his life was about to embark on its own magical musical journey: Woodstock, August 15–18, 1969, held on Max Yasgur's dairy farm in Bethel, New York.
New York state of mind goes Newport: Part II
“Our Mission --To serve people with disabilities and disadvantages so they may recognize and achieve their potential. Our Vision — Shangri-La envisions a community that accepts all people for their abilities and celebrates their achievements." — Shangri-La of Oregon
Robert “Tap” Tapolow-Tapolowski may have had his stint with Blue Sky Records (part of Columbia Recording Company), as a “lugger” at the Filmore East, and helped carpenters build the stage at Woodstock, but he’s rooted in helping people who are in disadvantaged situations — people struggling with chemical dependency and with abilities outside the neuro-normal spectrum.
“I was inside Fred Meyer for two years getting paid to exercise with one of my clients,” Tap says. The client is still a resident of Shangri-La in Newport with its LEAP (Life Enrichment Activities Program) but is on another case worker’s load.
He has been working with Shangri-La for more than three years, taking people from one of their group homes on day excursions, called activities of daily living.
These ADL’s include Tap driving a van to Waldport and Alsea Bay, and to other places. “Just to get them out of the house. We have a lot of laughs.”
He reiterates that he has worked with clients facing memory and development disability challenges for 30 years, starting in 1986 in Florida. He was part of a federal program in the state of Florida — Adult Basic Education — where those in nursing homes with Alzheimer’s and dementia get people assigned to assist in gaining quality of life and some degree of independence.
He worked in a three-quarter house in Miami. The 46-year-old Tap worked in the Tudor Hotel in South Beach, Florida. It was a recovery and sober living facility that charged $300 a month for a room. Tap was one of the on-site managers. And he was living as a sober man.
The three-quarter house is one of the last steps a person in recovery can take before transitioning back to regular life. Exposure to high-risk situations is one of the biggest risk factors for relapse.
We know trauma and significant events don’t always have to be directly felt or a lived occurrence. For Tap, his older brother Steve was the rebel without a cause. After running away and stealing a car as a juvenile, Steve ended up in several well-known fine arts schools, but he dropped out, eventually ending up in Greenwich Village. He was soon married to a woman from Alexandria, Virginia.
Married and two children, Mark/Sunshine and Miranda/Moonbeam, Steve ended up in Brooklyn working for Macy’s as head window dresser.
“Steve vanished. Left his wife and family behind. He contacted me and said he hopped a freight train to Arizona. He just couldn’t handle the kids and a wife.”
This is an everlasting blot on Tap’s memory of this brother. Unfortunately, Steve, who ended up in Florida as a convention display artist-lead, was the victim of a violent murder in Italy. “He had time to sightsee while the convention was up and running. He was driving in western Italy when he was accosted by bandits and murdered.”
This James Dean-like brother was dead at 57. “I still cry thinking about his kids, Mark and Miranda.”
Summer of love
Tap tells me he is somewhat of a photographer, but wants nothing to do with formally showing his work. He has been volunteering at the Newport Visual Arts Center for more than three and a half years. He says he dabbles in leather, wood and acrylics.
His other brother, the psychiatrist, Harvey, died in 2013. He’s got Al who is retired in Mt Laurel, New York. “He hates to fly and doesn’t like traveling.”
Tap’s steeled to make a go of the coast on his own — “This is my final destination as in I don’t need to seek any place better than this one,” he says seriously.
I repeated to him the rhetorical point — ‘Why would anyone in Lincoln County want to read about Bob Tapolow?’
“They would get a unique New York perspective with my background in the music biz.”
First, he accompanied gigs one weekend here and one there as a student at Rutgers. That included Northeast shows for the Johnny Winter Band. Tap was around a lot of Blue-Sky acts — Edgar Winter, Muddy Waters, Dan Hartman, Rick Derringer.
Tap reminisces about some of the women he has met and thrown-in with, including a Dilly Dally, secretary for Bill Graham, the expert promoter who was known for the Filmore East and West and who genuinely cared about both the artists and the attendees at his concerts.
Even the artworld is on his resume — he was part of an art gallery in Coral Gables, Florida, from 1984-85. It turns out the Italian artist that was the gallery’s exclusive client was ripped off, and the gallery owner scammed $100,000 from investors. Tap said she did prison time.
We get to how Tap first ended up in Oregon. That was with Doctor Deb, an intern at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Tap went in for angina pains, then lifestyle readjustments, including watching his diet and exercise philosophy. She ended up in Albany, Oregon, and according to Tap, she is a horse lover. So is Tap.
That was 2010, and he was with her at her 31-acre horse ranch with his quarter horse and her thoroughbred.
He went back to Rochester, though, since he had young children back east. He discovered Newport 10 years ago when he brought his children out here for a vacation. He told them he wanted to move out here one day.
He tried to do real estate in New York in 2014. He was offered a six-figure salary, but Tap said going from building to building — 27,000 apartments this company had — was too much. “Five days in New York City and I knew I just couldn’t do it. I went back and told him I can’t breathe . . . I can’t take it. I knew I wouldn’t have lasted five years there. I’d be dead. The first thing that popped in my head was, ‘Why not Newport?’”
I attempt to extract myself from the five-hour interview with Tap, but he continues to unravel more details about his life. For now, we’ll settle for this former New Yorker — same accent, same chutzpah attitude — as a front desk volunteer at the VAC. You might see him driving his Shangri-La charges around Lincoln County. You will definitely see the Brooklyn man at Fred Meyer seven days a week, early on, power-walking to the tune, “Staying Alive.”
Tap On-Tap with Q & A
Paul: What significant emotional event in your life really changed you and led you on a new path?
Tap: April 4, 1986. Hit a point in my basement in NYC with sunlight coming in the little windows and knew I was gonna die. Called my bro’ asking for help and he made plans for me to fly down to Miami and get sober.
Paul: What sort of philosophy can you present in a few sentences for our readers?
Tap: My teachers always professed the love and respect shown most clearly in the Bhagavad Gita and with the Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Paul: Growing up a young man when you did is so different now as a young man in 2020. What differences do you see? Similarities?
Tap: The differences I see all the time. They stem from society’s push to be Number One in life, ignoring your fellows to keep one step ahead.
Paul: What will you be doing in five years?
Tap: Living in the sweetest spot on our planet, Newport, Oregon. Working with the disabled population and enjoying the sunny days...and the rainy ones, too.
Paul: There is still a strong New York and East Coast sensibility in you, your diction, your perspective. Is that changing much now that you are on the "left coast"?
Tap: I’ve left that ‘N.Y. state of mind’ behind because there is way too much pressure to perform, in every event.
Paul: Where do you hope to see Newport going in the next 20 years since there are so many challenges in the city and Lincoln County?
Tap: It would be great if Newport became a health center for mind/body experiences. My experiences with psychedelics, psilocybin, mescaline and LSD have only just begun to be explored, for their healing properties, both mental and in some cases physical.
Paul: What do you love about Oregon Coast that others in say your old stomping grounds might not appreciate?
Tap: The greatest ocean on our planet! Some of the most incredible open-minded people I have ever known.
Paul Haeder is a writer living and working in Lincoln County. He has two books coming out, one a short story collection, “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam,” and a non-fiction book, “No More Messing Around: The Good, Bad and Ugly of America's Education System.”