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Reflective Developer Shares His World Through Verse

February 27, 1985|DOUG BROWN | Times Staff Writer

Having completed a successful but exhausting daylong meeting discussing a planned shopping center, Harry Newman checked into an Anchorage, Alaska, motel room, loosened his tie, slumped in a chair and stared blankly at the ceiling.

"I wondered what I was doing up in Alaska in the middle of March," recalled Newman, describing that Saturday evening in the early 1970s. It was one of the out-of-town trips he made while scrambling for business as the developer of the Mall of Orange and other shopping centers throughout the West.

"Why am I leading this crazy schedule?" pondered Newman, who was chairman of Newman Brettin Properties, which had holdings of $100 million and was headquartered in Long Beach.

"I was supposed to be intelligent and have plenty of money. But I felt I no longer was in control of my life; my career was in control of me," he said.

He was yearning to see his wife and five children. So Newman, who had checked into a motel at 4:30 p.m., left 30 minutes later and caught a flight home.

Thus began a decade-old journey of self-discovery which he has captured in a series of introspective poems concerning the "vague dissatisfactions about the unfulfilling life" all too often led by modern-day businessmen and women.

These musings on the price of business success have been collected in "Behind Pinstripes: Poems for Executives and Other Addicts." The book recounts the endless race of large gray pinstriped rats--executives living out of suitcases, traveling from one strange city to another, connoisseurs of hotel and motel interiors.

Published last fall and featured in Neiman-Marcus' Christmas catalogue, Newman's volume of verse has already sold 2,500 copies. That is considered a good sales figure for a book of poetry.

But do real businessmen write poems? Aren't they gruff, tough and maybe even heartless? Wrong, says Newman, who maintains that's an unfair stereotype.

"I can remember many conversations I've had with colleagues in business, over lunch or a couple of drinks in the evening, when they've expressed some of the same sentiments I've incorporated in my poems," said the 63-year-old Newman during an interview in his art-filled sixth-floor Long Beach office.

"That's really the reason I wanted to get the book published. The stereotype of the businessman is that he's a single-minded, impersonal individual committed to making money and achieving personal success regardless of the cost--to others or to himself."

That individual's truer feelings, Newman insists, are closer to those expressed in "Things" in which he writes of accumulating objects: a yacht, a second home, another car--and sighs:

No wonder holy men

Discard all their


Before they can feel


Or holy

"I've spent years talking to these supposedly hard-headed and hard-hearted businessmen and women," Newman said. "And the most common complaint is that they can't seem to balance their professional careers with their private lives.

"Most businessmen I've talked to think that the price they pay for business success is too great. In conversations with them, they keep saying over and over again that there must be some other way of living, where you can do well professionally without sacrificing other aspects of your life, that you can live a truly fulfilling life."

Indeed, Newman's poems, critics have said, betray a certain sensitivity that one usually imagines lacking in a busy executive. In "VIP, A Conversation," a poem in two voices, he has the following encounter with a cabdriver:

I have to be there at four thirty

For a business appointment

Before a dinner meeting;

So please step on it.

What do you do, if I may ask?

He asked.

I develop shopping centers

Small ones, big ones with malls.

Oh you must really be important.

Well, I don't know about that.

How long is your shift?

You're my last fare,

I started just before noon.

What do you do the rest of the time?

Oh, I go home; only a small place

Overlooking the river,

Work my vegetable garden,

Go fishing or sailing.

Sometimes I sit and read

Or look at the mountains.

I just make enough to get along.

That's why it's so nice

To meet a successful person

Like you.

Newman says he has received uniform praise from fellow executives who have read his thin volume of verse--poems composed in snatches over about half a million miles of airplane flight time.

"I've been really moved by the reaction from other businessmen," Newman said. "A lot of them have sent me letters telling me how reading my poems has changed their lives, how it's caused them to re-examine their priorities and to change what they've been doing with their careers so that they won't have to spend as much time away from their families."

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