Since writing a few weeks ago about Westerly’s late Archie Sherman and his argumentative and confrontational ways on the workout machines and in the locker room and sauna at the Westerly-Pawcatuck YMCA, I’ve received a number from emails ranging from praise for my portrayal to dismay at why I chose to portray him to condemnation for my treatment of a man who had honorably served his country to deep and revealing memories of members of his family, including, most poignantly, his estranged daughter.
To say the play struck a chord is cliché, but accurate, but it also tapped into contemporary political discourse, or lack thereof, in this country, as well as, to me, what constitutes a subject worth pursuing in public.
What I want to do here is explain what drew me to Archie Sherman and his story, and that requires a brief rehash of the first play.
Archie Sherman, a union electrician and Navy veteran, died at 81 in late January at Westerly Hospital, likely from COVID-induced pneumonia. He was not vaccinated against the virus, which I believe was consistent with his stubborn views on disease, politics and his own physical condition.
He was a thin man, often boasting of near immunity to the disease, although he suffered heart problems during the summer and underwent stent surgery.
I wrote about Archie Sherman because there was no one else in the Y like him. He apparently lived to bait and debate, usually about politics but also about history, religion, philosophy, Greek and Roman mythology. He read and watched documentaries and knew his stuff. However, he didn’t just bargain – he drove the argument straight to you, chin to chin, eye to eye, fearless and fierce, but without any detectable hostility.
He proudly wore his Trumpian MAGA hat in the Y, but, as I wrote, I thought his politics were more libertarian than zany far-right.
He annoyed people, nearly landed a few punches, and resisted complaints from staff. Yet, as I wrote, in the few years I knew him, I developed a grudging affection for him.
Over the years I’ve written about a number of people I’ve met in the bathhouses of Westerly and Mystic: a retired Episcopal priest who still ministers to a church in Mexico, a college mathematician , a few poets, musicians and politicians, a co-worker with a paving company who loved dining out, and did practically every night, and even a woman looking for her son’s shoes who was shocked to see me – and I mean all about me.
Archie’s cheeky nature and demeanor made him another hot topic.
“The question I have is, why?” writes Stephen Cole of Stonington. “The man was not particularly remarkable. So he was an angry old white man who was a Trump supporter – nothing special about that. He, like many of his fellows, looked like a belligerent asshole who thought he knew it all and liked to prove it by putting down people who disagreed with him. We all know people like him. Boring AF. Are you so hard on the material? You scrape the bottom of the barrel. Come on, man!
This from a woman in Charlestown:
“Shame on you for glorifying an ‘in your face’ bully like Archie Sherman. I have to guess Donald Trump’s 4+ years of bullying, bigotry and outright lies weren’t enough for you.
In a letter published by The Sun, Jennifer Hohman of Westerly wrote: “How can you imprint something so devious and mean on a man who served his country and is now dead? I imagine his children and his wife reading this article as they mourn and have to put up with Mr. Slosberg positioning their loved one as someone who lacks social graces and self-awareness.
Shortly after my story was published, I received this email from his daughter, Anita Sherman, who lives in Colorado. It’s too long to be reprinted here, but that’s hopefully the gist.
“Thank you so much for your article about my father, Archie Sherman. Your article captured the essence of who he was brilliantly. I loved it!” his email started.
“I am Archie’s only biological child from his first marriage in 1961… As Archie’s daughter, I grew up debating. I had formed very opposite opinions to those of Archie when I was 10 years old. He described himself as a “radical right wing hawk” in my time. Like a good counter, I registered as a Democrat and voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980, which launched more than four decades into the mosh-pit of civic engagement and the political politics that comes with evolution public policies.
She wrote that she had been Obama’s coordinator in Colorado and had been honored by MoveOn.org.
“(Archie) thrived on finding your vulnerability just to push emotional buttons. He was good at diatribe – not at debate. Chin to chin was his last resort to make his point using intimidation. Like a game of “chicken”, he believed he had won the round, if he blinked his opponent. For Archie, vulnerability and emotions were a sign of weakness. This is where we differed. I didn’t blink.
She said the rift between them happened in 2007 over parenting philosophy and discipline, not politics (she’s married with two daughters), and her father stopped talking to her. She says she tried several times to reconnect without success.
“Archie was completely self-centered,” she wrote. “He made personal choices without worrying about their impact on others. He didn’t seem to care either. It was his way or the highway. Retrospectively surface behaviors that do not explain why. Terms such as PTSD, depression, ADHD, manic-obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and possible stroke should be recognized by medical professionals. Without a louder voice than his appeal for his denial with advice, he was left alone to fight any undiagnosed challenges on his own. Maybe he looked people in the eye because he was looking for someone with the temerity to tell him he needed help. Something I would have done if he hadn’t cut me out of his life.
Finally, this sweet note from Coomi Bilsborough, who lives in Southern California.
“I am his first wife and I liked your article.
“When our daughter was little, this guy looked after her when I worked at Christmas, changed nappies, cooked. He was a hard worker. Two little old ladies loved him so much they gave him their dogs loved ones when they could no longer take care of them.
“Just before he went to subschool, he was stationed in Newport and on one of the destroyers that helped keep Russian ships out of Cuba.”
It’s madness trying to flesh out a complicated soul in 1,000 words, but it might help you learn a little more about the man.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and has been a longtime journalist and columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected]