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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Destry Rides Again is a 1959 musical “comedy”–a Western with music and lyrics by Harold Rome and a book by Leonard Gershe.  The play is based on the 1939 classic film of the same name, starring Marlene Dietrich and Jimmy Stewart.  The musical starred Dolores Gray and Andy Griffith.  Tom Destry (Griffith) abhors guns but becomes sheriff of the town of Bottleneck.  There, The Last Chance Saloon singer, Frenchy, proves a distraction in his mission to bring the bad guys to justice.  Poker, swindle, shooting, murder, and “bad women” form the substance of the drama–somewhat of a “classic” Western.  As the story goes, the character Gyp Watson has been arrested for the murder of Sheriff Keogh early in the play.  [See Wikipedia and other sources]

[The video clip is “Are You Ready, Gyp Watson?” performed on a TV variety show, featuring the original 1959 Broadway cast.  The great Dolores Gray appears as Frenchy, and Michael Kidd did the choreography.  Songwriter Harold Rome’s counterpoint melody inspired Kidd to turn this into a major dance number, which contributed to his winning the Tony Award for Best Choreography.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG4Mjq0H6Ic

I had never heard of the play nor heard the music until I was in college “back then.”  I was attending a men’s college, a small Roman Catholic seminary in Missouri.  Part of our curriculum, and a large part of our spiritual life, was song, and Gregorian chant.

Haec Dies Quam Fecit Dominus gregorian

Songs and hymns during liturgical services took place almost daily with the entire group of students.  One of my classmates, Ray Repp, approached me one day with an offer to join him and a few others to have a musical audition in a classroom.  He wanted to start a group to perform for the students.  Ray got us together, worked us, found us music, chose us a name, and set up a practice schedule during our free time.  We would sing when the school had time allotted for various entertainment activities, like one-act plays, songfests, movies, and amateur nights.

The Princetons were formed.  We were a timely group, with our musical repertoire for the ‘60s:  “Lemon Tree” “The River Is Wide, I Cannot See” and other ballads requiring good voices and one guitar.  And, of course, Gyp Watson’s funereal hymn which I still hum–and cannot ever get out of my head!  “Are you ready, Gyp Watson?  Are you ready, for to die?  Are you ready, Gyp Watson, for the last big roundup in the sky?”

And The Princetons had their “outfits”: black pants/trousers, black shoes, and white shirts, sleeves rolled up twice.  However, the distinguishing feature had to be our haircuts.  “Seminary” haircuts?  That would never do.  Not military cut, either.  Better, the “Princeton” cut:

princeton classic haircutA Princeton haircut–an Ivy League, or Harvard Clip–could be a kind of crew cut with enough hair styled on top for a side part.  Many individual variations came about.   

The hair on the sides and back of the head is usually tapered, short to medium.  (An Ivy League is traditionally groomed with hair control wax, sometimes called “butch wax”–a bit stronger than Dapper Dan pomade used by Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

princetons haircutsFAMOUS WEARERS OF PRINCETON HAIRCUTS

The Princetons of St Louis had their time, and made their mark.  And it was fun.  Ray thought we were good–and wanted us to make a recording of some of his music.  We did go to a small recording studio in St Louis and sang our best.  A tape was made.  Each of us had to contribute dollars for the master to be sent to various radio stations and critics.

Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and other groups were similar in some respects.  (Some memory tripping here: the Brothers Four, The Limeliters, The Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels.)  “As noted by critic Bruce Eder in the All Music Guide, the popularity of the commercialized version of folk music represented by these groups emboldened record companies to sign, record, and promote artists with more traditionalist and political sensibilities.”  We certainly were in good company, but were not very popular.  And so ended my “semi-professional” music career, though I did not cease to sing. 

I had always loved to sing, was always told I had a good voice–good enough for church choirs, high school chorus groups, and men’s choirs and choruses.  I sang the full range from young castrati-type soprano (with a Michael Jackson voice) to first tenor, like that of my Chicago Opera-singing friend, Jimmy Pappas [from Pappas Ice Cream Shop]  (who helped me love classical music and Lakmé and La Boheme, among other operatic works), to second tenor.

I have sung in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, Texas, Florida–at churches and sporting events, at weddings and at funerals.  I can still be “choked up” at “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave // O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

All this has been good.  I have had few bad experiences with song, or with reading music, or with hitting the proper notes.  There is, however, one forever-lasting impression of my place in the music world.  Once, in mid-life, I answered an ad, a call for auditions to the Florida Symphony.  I submitted all the proper paperwork, and found my way to the audition hall.  I was dreaming of tuxedos and travel and concert halls.  The audition practice began with Handel’s Messiah.  Some members of the chorus I already knew; some were like me, novices with the chorus, trying out, trying it out.messiah for satb

I knew I had to banish thoughts of black ties, patent-leather shoes, tuxedo tails when I realized pages of music were being turned–and I had not gotten there yet.  More tries.  More pages and notes and directions than I had ever experienced.

“Buddhism considers humility a virtue that must be won through a long process of self-observation.  It requires a healthy measure of self-confidence and courage to achieve a realistic and humble understanding of the self.”  (Sam Keen)

O say can you see how humble an understanding of myself I had at that time?!  At the break, I told the director that I could not do it.  End.

I am a hoarder, an addict, a collector: once upon a time, I probably had a thousand music CD’s, long after I had a record collection of classical and other music, choruses and operas included.  Downsized now, I still surround myself with music as much as I can. 

And, from time to time, Poor Jud Fry in Oklahoma, Tony in West Side Story, Gyp Watson, and a few other characters bounce around in my life–coming from I-don’t-know-where.  Though I am glad I have them to remind me of my days of song, and my brief musical career, and to bring me such memoriesofatime.

©  James F. O’Neil  2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Just lather, that’s all.  You are an executioner and I am only a barber.  Each person has his own place in the scheme of things.  That’s right.  His own place.”  — from the short story  “Just Lather, That’s All” by Hernando Téllez (1908 – 1966)

Possibly the most famous work by Hernando Téllez was his short story Espuma y nada más (“Just Lather, That’s All”), a story widely read amongst American high school Spanish students.  It depicts the inner conflict of a barber who is shaving the captain of a military unit who has tracked, imprisoned, and killed some of the barber’s comrades.  The barber vacillates between thoughts of slitting the captain’s throat with his razor or giving him the expert shave for which he is known.  In the end, the barber decides he does not want to be stained in blood, but only in soap lather or “espuma y nada más.”  As the captain leaves, he reveals that he heard the barber would kill him; his visit was to see if this was true.  [Summary by Wikipedia]

I first heard about this story when I was teaching 10th grade English in Florida.  I knew nothing of it except it was a film available through the A-V Department.  “Anything I could use to keep them entertained,” I said to myself one day while I was shaving.  The 10th graders and I were having some difficulties with literature “appreciation.”  So I ordered the film.  They and I were mesmerized.  What a great film–and I had to find and read the story.  I did–again and again.

Yet aside from the literary effects of the story or the history of my classroom use of the film, the memories that audio-visual production (real film with projector!) conjured up took me back to my beginning experiences with face hair and shaving, images of laughter and love affairs with razors and shaving; remembrances of questionable pedagogical actions.  Gillette, single edge, blue blades, double edge, Mach 3 Turbo; Merkur, Wilkinson.  Words, words, words.  And Remington, not shotgun, but a 1959 Electric Roll-a Matic electric razor.

As men get older, they don’t shave as often.  If they do, it’s out of habit, not of necessity.  “Don’t hafta go ta work.”  Or when they look shaggy, or out of self-esteem–or, perhaps, guilt.  Or, possibly, old military-like discipline.  I’m one of those who don’t shave much anymore, certainly not every day, as before.  “In the day,” I used to look forward to Saturdays, for a day off–especially from shaving.  Yet how excited and eager we were “once upon a time” to be able to shave like our dads, brothers, or uncles.  Then.

Today, shaving and all it entails is such big-money business, in stores and in advertising.  Reggie Perrin was the consummate Razor Man, from reggie-perrin-bbc-martin-clunesBBC-UK: from the company always trying to out-blade the multi-blade blade.  Reggie was British comedy.  More important, who would ever have thought of a sit-com about a razor blade engineer-salesman, and his company’s Quest for the Perfect Razor Blade.  The elusive “Perfect Razor Blade”–or even The Perfect Shave, like the search for The Holy Grail or the secret of alchemy.  We men (mostly) continue our Quest, as the mythics tell us “from the beginning” (ab initio) until… 

Which brings me up to my story.  (My “beginning” early memories of collecting “stuff” includes digging through garbage in the neighborhood alleys of Chicago to find used razor blades.  Whatever possessed me to do such a thing?  [I had quite a collection of Gillette Blue Blades.  I related some of this story of collection/addiction previously: https://memoriesofatime.com/2013/10/25/confessions-of-an-addict-reflections-on-collecting/].)

During my puberty and adolescence, peach fuzz came, sprouted in the pores on my face where zits did not thrive.  As I aged, I found razor blades not kind to my bumpy face.  My Uncle Bill gave me the Remington electric in 1959 that I used through my senior year of high school, then took to college. 

remington-electric-razor-my-first

JIMMY O’NEIL’S FIRST RAZOR

(Any memory images of college shaving are non-existent, more than a blur.)  My Electric Days have included Norelco products and mini-portables–and Braun Mobile units, battery-powered, for quick touch up works, at home or office.  These have been delightful.  Thomas Edison notwithstanding, I always have come back to the lather and the razor.  I have been on the receiving end of the lather and the blade: in college, a classmate who did haircutting offered to give me a shave.  My first and last with a straight edge, though older barbers still do neck trims with straight razors, and around the ears. 

For our first Christmas after our wedding, my new bride learned–perhaps from hints I had made, or from her reading–that The Perfect Shave Tool was a Merkur (German) razor wedded to a Wilkinson Sword Blade blade (made in England).  These, with a genuine badger bristle brush and a bar of Williams Shaving Soap were my gifts under the tree in 1963. 

merkur-razor-by-toecutter1967-photobucket

MERKUR RAZOR (by photobucket)

Brushes later, shaving mugs later, then Burma Shave canned lather, or Barbasol Thick and Rich (with aloe, of course)–to say nothing of a cup of Old Spice in a mug–have been used, tried, sampled (gels never were a success), and discarded.  I am a fickle shaver with lather, even trying shaving using messy (non-foaming) greasy-like cream or Noxzema.  Messy application, messy shaving, messy clean up.  (But, incidentally, a clean shave.  In spite of that, not worth the mess.)

In the past years, I have tried different razors and a combination of blades.  No Reggie Perrin blades (six or seven?), but single, twin, triple, with Atra razors, various Gillette models, the Merkur, and the Mach3 Turbo (current).  Harry’s in New York sent me a trial sample kit.  Harry’s is becoming popular, with good products and mailing.  But I just could not maneuver the blade under my nose…and around my nostril…  So No to their beautiful razor and handle and shaving cream and Blade-of-the-Month Club.  And I also do not need any Gillette Fusion!

So this story ends.  Not quite.  That film for the 10th graders.  Whatever possessed me (another possession) to bring brush and soap and razor to class and ask for a volunteer.  Was I sure of what I was doing?  (Did I care?)  I was certain that many of the peach-fuzzed boys had not yet shaved; many of the girls (I assumed then) had never seen any boy shave, or watched anyone shave, for real or in the movies (and certainly not as done in the Lather film).  Up stands Jerry Cohee, and comes to the front of the room.  “Gather round, kids,” I might have said, putting a towel around him.  I had the water and the soap ready.  In the cup, I “began to stir with the brush…and whipped up the soap” and just lathered.  I took my razor, and off they came, the hairs on his chinny, chin, chin.  Voila!  Done!  “Next?”  No Next.  Time for the bell. 

That was the end.  The last time I showed that film.  The last time I demonstrated expert shaving in the classroom.  The last time I taught 10th grade, and high school classes (moving on into a community college setting).  After all, though, it was one of those memoriesofatime never to be dismissed as trivial or insignificant.  So much surrounds it making it a great story.  And that’s it.

Telling stories about shaving isn’t as glamorous as writing about food in the movies, diets, exercise plans, building muscles in a gym, or travels to Paris, or babies’ first walkings–perhaps.  But I enjoy telling my stories about shaving.  At the same time, I have been thankful, at times, that I did not have to worry about cutting or nicking an ankle or taking a chunk out of my knee or calf, or messing with a razor in a bathtub.  I just need some hot water, a sink, a good razor and blade, and Just Lather, that’s all.

 

© James F. O’Neil  2016

shaving-bowl-and-colonel-shaving-brush

SHAVING BOWL AND BRUSH

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Awards can give you a tremendous amount of encouragement to keep getting better, no matter how young or old you are.”  –Alan Alda

I have not been much of an award recipient in my days.  I might have received a penmanship award for cursive.  Maybe a spelling ribbon (never first: Eleanor Wagner always got 1st Place).  No swimming trophies–unless you count the one for perfect attendance, no matter what the Chicago weather in summer.  No high school valedictorian.  Definitely not a magna-cum-anything in college.  The retirement plaque was a reward, kinda, for endurance.  That’s it.

Until recently.

I’ve been blogging for three years now on WordPress.com.  I‘m happy.

Now I’m happier.

I’VE BEEN NOMINATED FOR THE LIEBSTER AWARD.  JAWOHL!

liebster-award-nomination

Yes, Mimi, at Mimi’s Corner, nominated me for the prestigious Liebster Award.  This award is conferred upon those whose blogging is noted, from the original German translation of “liebster” as “beloved,” or a term of endearment used only for VERY close friends; but also it can designate something “personal” or “greatest” or “favorite” or better “a personal favorite.”

It’s mainly a fun way for bloggers to encourage each other, and partake in the fun of blogging.  And the nomination comes from another who has been nominated. And on it goes. 

I carefully considered the requirements and the fun and sharing it might be–and how it would be a different kind of memoriesofatime posting from my usual. 

I decided Why not?  Why not share, for this is one of my blog goals anyhow.

I replied to Mimi: “I accept.  I humbly thank you for doing this for me.”  So you can find her blog site at   https://talkeasysite.wordpress.com/

There are a few rules for a blogger to follow to qualify for the award; I would like to let you know that I have complied:

RULES FOR THE LIEBSTER AWARD

If nominated for the award, and accept, write a blog post about the award in which you

Thank the blogger who nominated you with a link back to his/her blog

Display the award on your blog

Answer 11 questions asked by the nominator

Nominate 5-11 other bloggers

Create 11 new questions for the nominees

List these rules on your post (for others to know what is coming.  Not so bad.)

Mimi asked me these 11 questions about myself.  Very interesting information here for you, my readers.

11 QUESTIONS FROM MIMI MY NOMINATOR:

  1. When did you start blogging and why? I began blogging in May 2013, thanks to my younger brother, Denis. He encouraged me to publish my stories of growing up and to share my memories.
  2. Who is your role model? My dad, Mortimer J. O’Neil. He raised me, taught me the O’Neil ways of to be a gentleman, to work hard at whatever I do.  He was funny, kind, street smart, happy, sad, religious, patriotic, union, reliable, and more.  I respected him always as a kind of “elder statesman,” filled with wisdom when needed.
  3. What is your favorite book and why? I would choose a play, Shakespeare’s Othello. Yes, not a novel, not the Bible.  But the best Shakespeare did–for human weakness, love, lust, tragedy, marriage, evil, friendship, jealousy, treachery–all condensed, with some beautiful poetry, and a good story, too.  It’s my favorite.
  4. What country would you like to live in? I have been to Turkey and Greece; I’ll take Turkey. I have been to France and to England; I’d take England.  I have this primal urge to visit Iceland.  Maybe Ireland.  I’m happy to spend the rest of my life here in the United States, right here in Florida.
  5. What is your greatest strength? My greatest strength is my greatest weakness: over achievement. Perhaps some OCD thrown into the mix with my INFJ, and my bi-polarity.  Blend it all together with a bit of dusty shelves and chaotic sock drawers.  You get the picture.
  6. What do you fear most? Having a stroke and being incapacitated, relying upon and being a burden to others.
  7. If you could be an animal, which one would it be and why? No doubt a cat. I was never a cat lover.  However, since 1973, we’ve had seven cats, off and on.  From what I know of them, their lives, their little feet, I’m for them.  Oh, a black and white tuxedo, a Sylvester, of course.
  8. What is most important to you in life? FAMIGLIA. HEALTH.  PEACE.
  9. What is your favorite movie? My 100 Best Movies. My 10 Best Movies.  My Best Movie to watch over and over, to laugh, cry, and feel good?  “And the envelope, please.  IT’S A TIE!  CASABLANCA and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE!”
  10. What would you want to change in your life if you could? I know from the Butterfly Effect (a concept that small causes can have large effects) that my whole life would be different were one thing changed. (See the movie The Family Man, one of my favorites.)  So I want to change nothing, despite everything that I ever thought about changing.

    11.  What makes you angry?  Angry?  How politicians, mostly learned lawyers, are so    stupid and do such stupid things, pass stupid legislation, get involved in stupid situations, forgetting the law, the Constitution, and their constituents: the voters.  (It’s more upset-ness than anger.  ANGER from religious intolerance, and bigotry with violence.)

Then I was to make a list.  Some of this you have NEVER known.

11 RANDOM FACTS ABOUT MYSELF

–I used to be 5’10 ½”; now I am 5’9”…

–I had a cool tie collection with many tie-tacks.

–I have a Cross pen fetish.

–I am a member of NSS: The National Sedentary Society.  (We never meet.)

–INFJ

–I babysat for a WW2 Flying Tiger pilot’s baby son.

–I never was accepted into Northwestern U., but was by the U of Minnesota.

–I will eat almost any kind of soup, especially what my wife brews.

–I drove a mail truck; I also once or twice drove a school bus. 

–I have walked in snow up to my butt.

–I had a fantastic ride in a real WW2 B-17 bomber ($400 for ½ hour).

Now I will share a list of other writers whom I follow.  There are many others I read daily and could recommend.  But look at these for now.

https://theliterateshow.wordpress.com/

https://pensitivity101.wordpress.com/

http://teachezwell.me/

http://skinnyandsingle.ca/  

https://marthakennedy.wordpress.com/

http://jilldennison.com/

https://hintsandechoes.wordpress.com/

https://thisonpurpose.wordpress.com/

https://thebestthingsinlifeblog.com/

https://susanmillard.wordpress.com/

https://onesunnyplace.wordpress.com/

NOW HERE ARE MY QUESTIONS FOR MY NOMINATED BLOGGERS TO ANSWER:

Who is the most important person in your life today?

Have you seen a good movie lately?  What made it good?

Did your schooling connect to your life?

What makes you angry?

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

For a person you loved deeply, would you be willing to move to a distant country knowing there would be little chance of seeing your friends or family again?

What is your most treasured memory?

Which sex do you think has it easier in your culture? 

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? 

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as your dinner guest?

What do you like best about your life?

* * *

So, OK?  HOW DID I DO?  DID I WIN?  DO I GET THE AWARD?

© James F. O’Neil  2016

 

LIEBSTER BLOG AWARD Cross Calais Pen 2016

 


 

 

 

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