When the Internet Brings You a Piece of Your Own Past

Oh, internet, how I do love thee!

You deliver things daily to my doorstep that I didn’t know I wanted, that I didn’t even know existed, but which instantly put a lapidary glow on a humdrum day.

The latest example concerns my father. His name was Solomon Paul Dubner; he died when I was 10; he was a newspaperman; I wrote about him at length in my first book, for which I thought I’d read everything he wrote.

But the internet — or, really, a blog post on the Schenectady County (N.Y.) Historical Society Library site — delivered this nugget about a fascinating place called the Dialogue Coffee House in Schenectady. It is described as:

“[A] non-profit organization aimed at creating dialogue among members of the local community. The organization’s coffee house hosted presentations and open dialogues about a number of topics, including social, economic, and political issues, local politics and government, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, visual and performing arts, health, religion and spirituality, psychology, labor issues, education, morality, and the nature of dialogue. While controversial topics were often featured at the Dialogue Coffee House, the atmosphere tended toward conversation rather than debate. In addition to open discussions and presentations, the coffee house also provided a space for underground films, musical performances, and plays as an impetus for dialogue.” 

The post includes a couple of great vintage photographs from the Dialogue Coffee House records, courtesy of the Schenectady County Historical Society’s collection:

Leonard Miller asks a question during a session of the Dialogue Coffee House about a series of tape recordings written and produced by Rev. Malcolm Boyd about civil rights. This dialogue was held January 14, 1966, at the First Methodist Church in Schenectady. Photograph from the Dialogue Coffee House Records. (Photo: From the collection of the Schenectady County Historical Society)

This photograph shows the second location of the Dialogue Coffee House at 121 S. Ferry Street. The Dialogue was located on the second floor. Photograph from the Dialogue Coffee House Records. (Photo: From the collection of the Schenectady County Historical Society)

And the post also includes an excerpt from an article my father wrote but which I’d never encountered:

“Political protagonists seem to lay down their arms when they go to the house. Persons from all major political parties gather at this Schenectady night spot to talk and listen. Those of opposite political camps – liberals and conservatives – find they can hold dialogue with each other with feelings of tolerance and understanding.”

— Paul Dubner, in a 1967 Schenectady Gazette article, writing about the Dialogue Coffee House.

I had three immediate responses to reading that paragraph:

  1. The visceral Proustian rush that accompanies this sort of encounter with one’s own past.
  2. Pride in the fact that my father found such an interesting place to write about, and appreciated what was so interesting about it.
  3. Sadness over the fact that this kind of public dialogue between opposing minds is practically nowhere to be found today.

Tom Stovall

I share your 1st and 3rd responses; neither of my parents believed in "tolerance and understanding", so I can't share the pride of your 2nd.

I have some pretty strong political views, with which neither national party comes close to aligning. I find it virtually impossible to engage even my closest friends of any slant, without their ultimate lapse into shouting me down at some point. I am usually pretty level-headed, but I admit there are occasions when I find myself shouting back.

Sadly, it appears that very few of the most unspoken have arrived at their beliefs through any sort of research or analysis; they just parrot the talking head that spouts the correct ideology. We are a people who have neither the time nor the motivation to think for ourselves, and that is perhaps saddest of all.


With respect to your third point, see http://www.thenewamericantavern.com/

Shane L

I have found that very dialogue on online discussion forums. True, they were not always gentle, but moderators tried to keep the personal abuse out and I learned lots by the energetic exchange of ideas between anarchists, conservatives, nationalists, pacifists, communists, feminists, liberals, libertarians, etc. I'm grateful to live in a time in which such opportunities exist, had I lived a few decades earlier I would probably never have met those people with all their ideas.

Funnily enough I was writing about this on my blog just yesterday. I'm still a member of a lively international relations discussion forum with members scattered around the world, and we're always welcome to new members and new ideas. Wrote about it here, which has a link to the forum in question to. Join us! :)

Terry Hewitt


Very pleased that my effort got to you. Sorry we could not have you speak at The Dialogue.