REBEL WITH A CAUSE
BY ALESSANDRA EPSTEIN
On March 30th, 1993, Gordon Bishop, his wife, Nanies, their seven-year-old daughter, Naomi, her nanny, Liana, a friend named James and a driver were traveling by jeep through Java. The twisting curves in the road made it impossible to see two large vehicles, a huge truck and a bus, approaching from the opposite direction, racing one another at an imprudent speed. Too late, the driver tried to avoid the catastrophe. The bus swerved into the left side of the jeep, which smashed into the cliff. Nanies was killed. Bishop and his daughter, who have greatly suffered the consequences of this loss, somehow managed to survive.
Bishop sank into a coma and was connected to a respirator for two months. He underwent 18 hours of experimental surgery after breaking his pelvic bone and seven ribs, and fracturing his leg in numerous pieces. Subsequently, his leg, containing metal held together by legions of pins, became infected with Paget's Disease, the same illness that caused Beethoven's deafness. Veins and arteries, removed from his back, were placed inside his leg and reconnected, leaving him with a diagonal scar. Later diagnosed with cancer of the eye, he now wears a glass eye. Recently, Bishop, who is 57, also discovered that he is a diabetic.
Yet, even with all the pain, Bishop continues to subsist. Indeed, he does more than just subsist, as he sits in his rolling desk chair with an enormous lump protruding from his right lower leg. Bishop is the personification of vitality.
Nicknamed Dubjinsky Barefoot (Dubjinsky because it is his original last name, and Barefoot because he spent one year hitchhiking barefoot), Bishop, in his earlier years, was often likened to Jesus with his long-flowing hair and dark eye shadow, lining his lower eyelids. "I actually looked like Jesus," he exclaims. "I remember I was wearing a lambskin vest from Jerusalem and had a blue star on my forehead. These women crossed themselves whenever they saw me on the metro." Once, he even believed he was Jesus, after taking Mescaline for 30 days straight. He may not be the actual "Savior" himself, but he has helped to deliver people from unquestionable evil, acquiring an extensive entourage as the enigmatic "Joyo." This word is unfamiliar to most, but to those whose lives depend on Indonesian news, Joyo is a godsend. "I have a news service, in which I compile the most interesting news regarding Indonesia, and send it to a specialized audience," Bishop explains. This exclusive public includes all major publications, magazines and newspapers, academics, government officials and world organizations, such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch.
A few weeks from now marks the eighth year of the Joyo Indonesian News Service, a highly successful network of information, which he created. However, Bishop will not be celebrating. Instead, he will remain at his computer, preparing the next day's news. "It's a seven day job. I don't get vacations often," he says. Aside from vacations, the benefits are also slim. The news service continues to thrive with the help of grants, but that money often goes unseen by Gordon Bishop.
"It's more like a labor of love," he adds.
A product of the 1960s and the Baby Boomer generation, Bishop is endowed with a rebellious spirit and a radical outlook on life, love and, especially, politics. He was brought up in an upper-middle class Jewish family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His parents were hardest on his older brother and sister, Warren and Janie. His younger brother, Stewart, was considered the classic screw-up, but Bishop, on the other hand, was his mother's favorite. Although his parents were rather liberal in their practice of Jewish traditions, they were more interested in assimilating with others than causing an uproar about certain political issues. Unlike his conformist father, Bishop was never apprehensive about participating in demonstrations and openly criticizing the government. Instead, he lived for the moment, supporting underground movements, going on wild adventures, both physical and psychedelic, encountering beautiful women and, ultimately, falling in love.
Exhibiting the true characteristics of a Libra, Gordon Bishop is characterized by his outspoken behavior, which has often led him into trouble. During 1968, while living in Jerusalem, he was branded "Most Wanted" by Israeli police, for writing a controversial article for The Jerusalem Post . It seems that Jewish hippies, who came to Israel, were relentlessly being harassed by police and bystanders, because of their unkempt and unusual appearance. Bishop chose to interview 20 of these hippies about their experiences with harassment and spoke with the Head of Police, asking why such individuals were being treated with such disrespect. This was a time of bitter unrest between the Israelis and Palestinians, and rumors were concocted, spreading word of Jews working for Palestinians within Israeli borders. These hippies, and Bishop himself, were targets for suspicion. The true spies were not revealed until a year later.
No stranger to publicity, Gordon Bishop's bearded face is found on the front page of The New York Times of 1967. The headline reads, "23 War Protesters Arrested in St. Patrick's After Disrupting a Mass." The idea was to create an image of protesters as "bearded anarchists." The morning before, at ten a.m. on January 22nd, Bishop, and several other nicely dressed men and women, had scattered themselves throughout St. Patrick's Cathedral to await their signal. As the "absolutely fanatic pro-Vietnam War cleric" Francis Cardinal Spellman stood to give his Sunday sermon, each of them rose, pulled posters from their sleeves and walked up and down the aisle of the church with signs depicting Napalm babies and the words "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Cardinal Spellman, one of a group of Catholics who convinced President Eisenhower to increase America's involvement in the Vietnam War, was for Bishop, a symbol of the Church's complete hypocrisy.
"The more I started to read about Vietnam, the more I realized America was waging an inhumane, immoral war against innocent people," Bishop explains. "And there was such a separation between people for and against the war that the country was so divided. It was a country at war with itself."
As fights erupted within the stained-glass walls, Bishop, and his fellow demonstrators, were met by police at the front door. They were arrested on the federal charge of disrupting a religious ceremony and breaking and entering. The charges were dropped after a two-year legal battle. Bishop's opposition to the Vietnam War did not go unnoticed. "Nixon used to say, 'There is a small group of radicals going around the country instigating things,' and I was one of them. When you see injustice after injustice like that, you want to do something."
Being part of the Hippie generation, he often experimented with mind-altering drugs which sent him on wild journeys of the imagination, after which he would come to some interesting realizations. After ingesting a capsule of LSD with a coworker named Neil, they walked for miles to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor called "Flick," which played silent movies on a blank wall. "The place was very crowded that day and I realized that, as I was talking to Neil, every single letter that came out of his mouth became a different flower." Bishop sits laughing quietly to himself, as he names as many flowers as possible. "Roses, carnations, lilies, daffodils, tulips..." The enthusiasm with which he speaks, startles me into laughter. "All of a sudden, I couldn't even see Neil anymore because all the flowers were piled up in front of him," Bishop recalls. Returning home at eight a.m., with the grin of Alice in Wonderland 's Cheshire cat, he immediately telephoned his doctor for sleeping pills, who immediately telephoned his parents, and a psychiatrist. His sentence: a three-day stay at the elite Payne Whitney Clinic (otherwise known as a "mental institution"), under the influence of heavy sedatives. "I was so heavily drugged, I never wanted to leave!" Bishop adds with a suggestive smile. He extended his out-patient sojourn in the famous "Marilyn's room" to two weeks.
Gordon Bishop has seen and experienced the world. However, in the year of 1969, his heart stopped and his breath lingered as his eyes fixed on a wonderland more amazing than any he had ever seen before, a wonderland named Indonesia. His first trip to the historical habitat of the Java Man, one of the earliest humans discovered in the early 1890s, was in 1969, a time when very few foreigners frequented the archipelago of over 15 thousand islands. "It was so different, so exotic, so tropical. I had never been anywhere like that before," Bishop says. He was fascinated by everything about this culture: the people, their traditions and beliefs, and especially, their music and dance. "With every neighborhood having its own orchestra, dance and music are an integral part of their everyday life," he explains. "Everywhere you look it's paradise! It's just astonishingly beautiful and the people are at one with their environment. They're completely animistic. Everything is sacred," he adds. This breathtaking environment, so devoted to its numerous different trances to ward off evil and maintain equilibrium, also established fate by introducing him to his soulmate.
Now confined to a modest apartment overlooking Ninth Avenue, Bishop wears a black beret and sits face to face with his computer, in a room reminiscent of the rich and exotic adventures he once knew. The pungent smell of Adobo chicken, mixed with the flavors of foreign spices, permeates the room and compliments its antique Indonesian decor. A beautifully carved wooden canopy bed leans against the far wall, covered solely by a blue and white batik cloth and a majestic Sleeping Buddha. In front of it stands a table, masked by a collection of colorful toys and gadgets, a miniature globe, several gem stones and a large Hopie Kachina doll. An oval dining table is stacked with hundreds of photographs, candles and imaginatively drawn stick figures. Brightly lacquered masks and puppets hang from each wall, as glimpses of off-white paint peek through its exposed areas. A red velvet curtain, cascading over what seems to be a closet, actually diverts eyes from a tidy, miniature bedroom. Books shroud the hardwood floor and a white fluffy American Eskimo dog (comically named "Sam-I-Am") is attacking an innocent stuffed bull to the sound of Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks."
Bishop, a middle-aged man, bearing the signs of fatigue, turns in his chair. His black-framed glasses hang crookedly from his ears, revealing his dull eye. His black-grey hair is uncombed and he is wearing pajamas. "O, Christ!" he exclaims, as he struggles to lift his right leg across his left. "I had 46 years of perfect health."
"It is hard to do anything when your body is failing you like that," says his daughter Naomi, a student at Trinity High School in New York City. She continues, "Everything that has happened has made him into a shadow of his former self. He is enervated now. He's had the energy sucked out of him." He may not be able to walk effortlessly and see perfectly, but his memory is flawless.
"I had this sort of semi-fairy tale existence that was completely smashed apart," explains Bishop of his former life with his wife. Her name was Nanies Siti Ahadiah Suryodiprodjo. Royalty ran through her veins, yet arrogance never surfaced in her demeanor. She was beautiful with a smooth, golden-brown complexion. She always wore an orchid in her long, flowing black hair. She possessed utmost poise, gentility and grace--many referred to her as an angelic, divinely inspired person who was put on this earth to bring happiness to those around her. Practicing the art of Javanese dance, her every movement was fluid and delicate. Her heart was overflowing with mirth and she had a distinct laugh, which was emphasized through her expressive, almond shaped eyes. The two were total opposites: he was a frenetic, crazy, extreme-leftist New Yorker, and she was an elegant, loving and overly generous foreigner who dazzled everyone with her luminous aura. However, they were perfect for one another. Even in her absence, the memory of her lives strong within the hearts and walls of the Bishop house. Pictures of her, spread throughout the various rooms, depict her effervescent presence and the simple way she could enchant her audience.
Naomi remembers the story of their love affair, retold to her by her father. "They met on the Indonesian Independence day in Jogjakarta. Through the crowds, they locked eyes and followed each other's gaze. Mama was with her sister and Dad did not speak Indonesian at the time. The moment he saw her, he knew he wanted to marry her. Four days later, he thought of her and thought about how much of a 'schmuck' he was for not saying anything to her. He told his friend Jono to tell him immediately if he ever saw her. Jono recognized her one evening at the central market, and my Dad waited there every day for two weeks, but he did not see her again. A few months later, he envisioned her in a becak (an Indonesian pedicab) and tried to chase after her, but he lost her in the crowd. Eventually, he was broke, and somewhat depressed and gave up. One day, he was walking down the street with his friend Jono who told him to forget her and try to meet other women. My Dad responded with a quote by D.H. Lawrence, 'Those who seek for love never find it; only the loving find love, and they never have to seek for it.' At that moment, he looked up and saw her beautiful face."
Gordon Bishop's escapades are now fewer in number, yet his thirst for danger and the unknown is still ever present. Only a mere eight years ago, Bishop fathered his most precious insurrection yet. For more than 30 years, General Suharto was a ruthless dictator in Indonesia. Under his "New Order," a major censorship blockade was enforced on anything in print that slightly criticized him or his corrupt policies. The only real news concerning Indonesia was reported by foreign journalists and broadcasted or published in English. No Indonesian journalist dared to write in his own language, because he would immediately be arrested and jailed. The only counter weapon General Suharto could not control was the Internet, a medium too vast to dominate. In the summer of 1996, after being blacklisted from Indonesia as a threat to its dictatorship, Bishop bought a computer and began an online quest for news about the region. He found several intriguing articles, which he sent to a group of intimate friends, who in turn, sent to their friends. "It just grew organically like that," Bishop says. By pioneering the use of the Internet as a way to inform the people of Indonesia, a wave of disapproval swept over the country, and challenges to General Suharto's government finally surfaced. On May 21st of 1998, he was forced to resign, marking the end of an era, and the birth of the Joyo Indonesian News Service .
Bishop has managed to touch the hearts of those around him, just as he has influenced others who may be unknown to him. Steve Heller, Bishop's best friend since ninth grade, shows his appreciation for their friendship. "I have known Gordon for over 40 years. He is an exciting, poetic, exotic and artistic life explorer with a tremendous, compassionate heart that he is always ready to share. He has enriched my life, and that of others, in a multitude of ways." Heller is not the only one who has been stimulated by Bishop's immense vitality.
"All my life, my dad has been my source of inspiration," Naomi says. "Aside from providing me with immense, unconditional love, he has ingrained within me a certain sense of curiosity, a thirst for culture, knowledge and beauty. He has compelled me to fight for injustices and has ignited a yearning to help those less fortunate than myself. Moreover, he has taught me to channel my strengths, struggles and experiences into art."
Now standing within the chaos of the living room, Gordon Bishop readjusts his beret and moves toward the kitchen. It is the night before Passover and he is preparing a special dish called charoseth, made with apples, almonds, cinnamon, sugar and a sweet Jewish wine, Manischevitz. I ask him where he sees himself in ten years. He candidly responds, "I don't know, but I should have become a Buddhist monk." As he positions his hands in sign of a meditation prayer, he adds, "That would have reflected the changes I have been through, more than what I am now."