Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 28, 2007

Claude Pines, in memoriam

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:51 pm

Usually I write about broader social, political and cultural issues but I feel a deep need to say something about an old classmate from Bard College that I lost touch with just about 40 years ago. His name is Claude Pines and he died of leukemia on December 11, 2006. I learned about his death, just as I learned about his life-long battle with schizophrenia, through a google search. Every so often, the question pops into my head, “Whatever happened to so-and-so” and more often than not, google will provide an answer.

Claude Pines 1943-2006

After googling “Claude Pines” about 2 years ago, I was startled to learn that he had a mental breakdown about twenty years ago and had been in and out of mental hospitals from that point on. Although I could not summon the will to get in touch with him after discovering this, I found myself thinking about him a lot and even entertaining the possibility of giving him a call. I am sorry that I did not.

This is an excerpt from the article that turned up on my first google search:

People Think I’m Crazy

The mentally ill struggle with perceptions


Editor’s Note: This is the second in an occasional series on mental illness.

Claude Pines spent his days in the mental hospital smoking cigarettes and staring at a clock, thinking about how life would be different when he got out.

How had he fallen this far?

He was a smart guy. He went to Columbia University [he transferred there after two years at Bard.] He had been a medical student at Einstein College of Medicine and even did a term in psychiatry. Now, he was one of them.

He had fallen into a different class of people. He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression. The symptoms of his disorder could be treated with medication and therapy. The stigma of having such an illness, however, would not be as easy to get away from.

Full: http://www.namiscc.org/Experiences/2003/PeopleThinkImCrazy.htm

Claude’s illness reminded me once again of how schizophrenia can strike like lightning out of a cloudless sky. Of all the people I was friendly with at Bard, none struck me as more balanced than Claude. Although he was only 2 years older than me, he had the demeanor and self-confidence of somebody much older and wiser.

Claude had an apartment on the Lower East Side near Tompkins Square and I used to visit him on “field period”, a two month break from classes that supposedly Bard students should have used for internships, etc. The program was pretty dysfunctional by the time I arrived there in 1961. I have fond memories of bullshitting about life, women and books with Claude till late at night and then going to Leshko’s in the morning for a huge Polish-style breakfast that cost 95 cents in those days.

This week I learned that Claude had died:

GLENS FALLS — Claude Pines died Monday morning, Dec. 11, 2006, at Glens Falls Hospital, after a seven-month battle with leukemia. Born June 7, 1943, in Brooklyn, he was the second son of the late Dr. Bernard Pines and Charlotte Rachlin Pines, Esq.

Claude graduated with a B.A. from Columbia, and attended medical school at the Universite Libre in Brussels, Belgium, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. For many years he worked in bacteriology at Montefiore Hospital, Doctor’s Hospital and University Hospital in New York City.

Following an extended period of mental illness in 1986, he moved to the Glens Falls area, where he became an advocate in the area of Mental Health. He spoke to consumers and professionals alike from the unique point of view of one whose experience was broad enough to address important issues both personally and clinically. Claude was an active participant in programs sponsored by the Warren Washington County Association for Mental Health and North Country NAMI.

He was loved for his wry humor, gentle spirit, and a wisdom born of struggle and perseverance. He enjoyed Shakespeare and James Lee Burke, pizza with his niece, Charlotte, and the prospect of fishing for yellowtail off Bimini with his brother’s friend, Fred. Claude had been a counselor at the East Side Center, a respite worker with Voices of the Heart, which he named, and most recently, a relief worker with ARC.

Full: http://www.cherrylawnschool.org/memoriam/memoriam.html

My own brother suffered from schizophrenia and he committed suicide in a mental hospital back in 1971. Since his problems were far more severe than Claude’s, I was spared the duty of looking after him. Sometimes I wonder if he took his life just so that he wouldn’t have been a burden on me or my mother.

Paul Pines

I can’t help but identify a little bit with Claude’s older brother Paul, who also went to Bard. Paul was a good friend of Ken Shapiro, the child television comedian who used to appear on the Milton Berle show and who went on to develop “The Groove Tube” with Chevy Chase. I never really knew Paul very well, but his new website gives some indication of the kind of far-reaching interests he had and what his brother meant to him:

PAUL PINES grew up in Brooklyn around the corner from Ebbet’s Field and passed the early 60’s on the Lower East Side of New York. He shipped out as a merchant seaman, spending 65-66 in Vietnam, after which he supported himself driving a taxi and tending bar until he opened his own jazz club, The Tin Palace in 1970 on the corner of 2nd Street and Bowery. A cultural watering hole for the better part of the 70’s, it hosted figures like Kurt Vonnegut, Martin Scorsese, Charles Mingus, Eddie Jefferson, Joan Mitchell (the painter) and Larry Rivers. It also provided the setting for his first novel, The Tin Angel (Wm Morrow, 1983). During this period Pines lived and traveled in Central America where he became aware of the genocidal policy targeting the Guatemalan Mayans–the basis for his second novel, Redemption (Editions Rocher, 1997). His forthcoming memoir, My Brother’s Madness, (Curbstone Press, 10/07) is based on his relationship to his brother who had a psychotic break in his late 40’s and explores the unfolding of two intertwined lives and the nature of delusion. He has recently completed a libretto based on his novel The Tin Angel, music to be composed by Daniel Asia, who is currently setting poems by Pines in a symphony commissioned by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra scheduled to premier in 2008.

Full: http://www.paulpines.com/

I am deeply sorry about Claude’s passing, but in some way feel that death was a relief from a life-time of suffering. I am not a religious person but I have to think that if the supernatural beliefs had any basis in fact that Claude would be in heaven right now. He was one of the most decent people I ever knew in my entire life.


  1. The hits just keep on coming; you are (understandably) showing some more sophistication and sympathy here than in your archived reviews of movies about unbeautiful minds, with attendant remarks about mental illness under socialism. And I think there is a broader social moral in the story you tell. Schizophrenia is a loser’s disease; better-functioning, better-accepted people with basically the same symptom profiles get classified as bipolar. (A facts-of-mental-illness book I once read remarked that schizophrenics were rarely gifted, whereas bipolar sufferers often achieved great things; this was presented as a contingent piece of data, whereas it is really definitory.) As such, there’s a lot of commonality between schizos and the rest of the underclass; often, the things that are disturbing them are perfectly real problems facing anyone without means (or much in the way of ways) in our country. That being said, your friend sounds like a winner considering the situation. I briefly knew someone who had a similar diagnosis and similar occupational profile as “peer counselor”, helping at one point with parts of the ADA; and although he had given up his drink and drugs, to hear him talk he had a hell of a time doing things he enjoyed, like hunting and hanging out with his family. Although this sort of thing could easily sound like more losing given the ordinary standards of success, I think it should certainly be adequate by any sufficiently socially enlightened standard of achievement. So it seems to me heaven is a hypothesis too far to justify your friend’s life.

    Comment by Jeff Rubard — April 29, 2007 @ 2:58 am

  2. Touching piece, Louis. Your observations are deceptively political in the fundamental meaning of that word as Aristotle meant it when he called man a “political animal.” By which I understand an animal connected to others of his kind by common interests and experiences that sometimes rises to the level of sympathy, the ability to feel with another. Your reflections on what mental illness can do, and does to many who a moment ago felt they had a unique destiny is in this sense profoundly political. In Claude’s case, his suffering was punctuated by laughter, and the wisdom that blossomed from his struggle with a mind that he found he could not trust. He learned, instead, to trust his heart. I also very much liked your piece on Barney Ross.

    Comment by Paul Pines — May 1, 2007 @ 3:30 am

  3. […] with mental illness, the news of his passing left me at a loss for words. After a day or so I wrote a tribute to him on my […]

    Pingback by My Brother’s Madness « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — November 26, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

  4. […] Filed under: Affinities — Scruggs @ 8:34 pm Claude Pines, in memoriam My Brother’s […]

    Pingback by The Pines « UFO Breakfast Recipients — November 29, 2007 @ 1:34 am

  5. Thanks Louis. Thanks everyone. Such wonderful memories.

    My father and Claude’s mother were siblings and he felt like a brother to me.
    He was my mysterious French-speaking cousin when I was a girl and he always did seem older and wiser; even when he really was older and wiser.
    Even after the chemo had killed off any lingering resources that might have been any good to him, he remained willing to participate in his own life and try to save it if he could. There was no self-pity during his ordeal with blood cancer. He had had a lifetime of anger and regret for the mental illness that was forced down his throat and had thrust him into a life of pain and paranoia.

    He fought hard and remained true to his spirit; so gentle and in the end, full of grace.
    He is missed and will always be missed.

    Comment by Joann Rachlin — February 18, 2008 @ 8:02 pm

  6. I remember ClaudE from grade school at Brooklyn Friends.He was two years older than me, and I recall his gentleness and kindness. And he had one heck of a set shot!

    Comment by mark zauderer — October 8, 2009 @ 4:08 am

  7. I only saw your website recently and thought I’d send you this note. Claude was one of my closest friends. I met Claude and Paul in high school. Claude and I graduated in the same year. When I met my wife back in the early 80s, I came to find out she knew them well, having lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn as kids. Claude was a gentleman and loyal friend. He had a wonderful sense of humor; even when he was going through his darkest period. Once, during ’85 or ’86, when he came to visit when I lived in the city, and he was ready to leave, he turned to me with a big smile and said “It’s time to go back to the funny farm”. We both laughed non stopped. He knew that I understood. He was able to walk on both side of the portal. What was painful to see, was that he was finding it harder and harder to walk through it as time went on. I last spoke to Claude by phone in 2005. My wife and I were going through a tragic period; pulling ourselves up and out finally. I only a few years latter attempted to recontact good friends and found out about Claude’s passing. Ofcourse, it hit like a ton of bricks. I did not know that during that period, he had leukemia and thus was saddened that I hadnot contacted him in 2006. I firmly believe that he is at peace and is watching all those he knew and cared about. Last year, Paul sent me a copy of “MY Brother’s Maddness”. As I read the book, it was as if I felt myself going through a time warp back to the day; knowing Claude as well as I did. Thank you for your Memorium to Claude. As a good friend of his, it is wonderful to see that those lives he touched made a difference and how others showed their respect and friendship to him. Henry Orgel, Nov. 13th, 2010.

    Comment by Henry Orgel — November 13, 2010 @ 11:43 pm

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