Sitting in bed, tucked under a sleeping bag and surrounded by piles of books and letters and old magazines, Sol Gerstenfeld can hold a conversation for hours.
“The important thing is the exchange of ideas,” he said. “Nobody has a monopoly on brains.”
The 89-year-old has a long memory and many stories and deep ties to Mountain View. He talks about 1947; how he moved to Anchorage and settled down on Irwin Street and paid about $800 for a tiny trapper’s cabin on the lot where he still lives today. He talks about 1952; how he went away to school in Cleveland, held a job, worked on five theatrical productions in 10 weeks, learned as much as he could and contributed as much as he could. It was the best year of his life, he said.
He talks about politics and education. He’s self-published books of poetry; run for the U.S. House of Representatives; been a firefighter, forklift operator and folk dancer. An honorable citation from the Alaska Legislature is tucked among the clutter of papers above his bed. He once studied psychology and sociology at the University of Alaska Anchorage, but he believes knowledge has an expiration date.
“Know enough to know what you don’t know,” he said. “Forget the bullsh*t that used to work; find what works now.”
His mind is sharp and strong. His body is growing weak. Polio and age and an old judo injury are catching up with him. He makes his way around his 350-square-foot home in a wheelchair; only leaving two or three times a month when a driver from the senior center picks him up to go grocery shopping or to a doctor’s appointment.
When old friends stopped responding to his letters years ago, he stopped spending money on postage. He eventually did the same with his letters to the editor at the Anchorage Daily News. His mailing list has shrunk to about a dozen names.
“Still breathing, at home, chained to my throne by a diuretic,” he wrote in his last holiday missive.
To stay informed and pass the time, he watches CNN and local television news and reads Kiplinger’s Report, The Lowdown, Washington Spectator, This Week and whatever else comes in the mail. It’s getting harder and harder to see the words on the pages. Visitors are rare. Phone calls, too. The only family he has left are the four nieces who live out of state.
These days, the man who prizes communication spends most of his time alone.