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ANECDOTES

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL P-51 LVR License Plate cropped

PART II: PLANES

“Flying a good airplane doesn’t require near as much attention as a motor car.”  —Charles Lindbergh

* * *

I love flying.  I’d do more if I could, for I have no fear.  But bad back and arthritic knees make for discomfort.  I cannot imagine an eighteen-hour flight nowadays.  Maybe at one time.  There was that trip to Frankfort then on to Istanbul; or the New York to Athens, non-stop; and my six visits to the UK (Anglophile? and summer school at Cambridge University); and I’ll always have Paris (2013).  Still, my bucket list contains the word “Reykjavik.”  Maybe.  Someday.

iceland mapIceland Map

My flying life began in spring 1961.  I was a passenger, with a gift-ticket from my parents, to visit home for Easter Break.  Saint Louis to Midway Airport, Chicago, a four-engine turbo-prop…  I’ll Never Forget My First–within the wispy clouds of the heavens.  And so it began, little by little, but enough for me: a DC-3 and others, graduating to the luxury of a British Airways 747, bigger and better.  I have been fortunate to see the Concorde, up close and personal, and in a museum, sitting in its rather futuristic seats.  Indeed, I have seen it fly, even take off and land.

As an airplane enthusiast, I’ve made trips to airshows and aviation days (Duxford, England, even); I have listened to stories told by fighter pilots, collected books and magazines.  I have visited with World War II bomber pilots, have tried to squeeze my portly non-regulation body over the catwalks in the bomb bay of a B-24.  No way could I make it into the pilot’s seat.

However–oh, my!–what a birthday gift from my wife: One Ticket to Ride in the Collings Foundation B-17G.  One hour.  What a present!  Ten passengers.  During takeoff, I was in the pilots’ compartment, sitting on the floor, hearing every command, feeling every bump on the runway.  Reaching altitude, flying above Fort Myers, Florida, and Sanibel, out over the Gulf, and back to Page field, we riders were allowed to walk through the plane, from tail area to look through the Plexiglas nose.  I even stuck out my head, able to look at the tail as we cruised at many miles an hour, my head being blown about.  (That hour flew by…)  Speechless.  In awe.

B-17 Flight Birthday Gift Oh, The Places We WentJimmy in Birthday Present Ride B-17

[Aside anecdote: That B-17 ride?  I was so child-like nervous-excited (at age 50) that I had to make two visits to the WC before takeoff.  Then one more, as I was about to crawl into the plane: “Do I have time…?”  The plane had to delay takeoff to wait for me from my third “potty stop.”]

collings b-17GCollings Foundation B-17G

I am a dreamer, though, dreaming, hoping someday, of being in the cockpit of the Cadillac of the Sky, the P-51 Mustang.  If I can fit. 

Mustang LoverJimmy Dreamer Next to His Favorite Plane

 

The dreams, though, actually began long ago, those memoriesofatime.  That early airplane- enthusiasm life began with balsa wood, hanging around hobby shops, smelling Testor’s paints and glues.

testors-full-paint-setModelers’ Dream of Testor’s Paints

Real stick models, tissue-paper sides.  Then came “Plastics!”  Snap-apart-parts then glue-together models, fighters and bombers from World War II especially, sizes 1/32, 1/72, or 1/48 scale mostly.  And metal: lead and zinc: Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Maisto, others.  No more toy soldiers for me that I had made in my own little foundry when I was young; I had metal airplanes for a while.  And then?

Then I put away, for a very long time, “the things of a child (“When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”  Paul 1Cor. 8.11?).

The lure of metal airplanes became strong, stronger, as I neared retirement age: “Diecast metal construction with some plastic components.  Realistic panel lines, antennas, access panels, and surface details. Pad printed markings that won’t fade or peel like decals.  Opening canopies, revealing detailed cockpit interiors.  Interchangeable extended/retracted landing gear.  Presentation stand.  Accurately detailed underside.”

In addition, more and more companies moved into the market, while others, like Franklin Mint moved out.  Others began to attract older collectors who grew up with those plastic models, now making transitions to Corgi, Witty, Hobby Master, Dragon Wings, and Gemini Aces, detailed with the “fiddly bits” that made authenticity and squadron markings paramount–and arguable for “purist collectors.”

I became a collector, a hobby-addict.  It’s not all ordering and unboxing, displaying and dusting.

Hobby Master warning label.jpg “Some Assembly Required.”

There can be research, reading, movies to see, stories to read.  Oh, airfields to visit–and even cemeteries to walk

I am not fanatical about my hobby.  I enjoy what I can, see what I can.  As I have previously written, here is what I have learned: The more I learn about one little bit of this or that, the more I realize how impossible it is to really “know it all”–like trying to collect it all.  When it comes down to it, as all know, it’s “whatever turns your crank,” isn’t it?  What I collect, how I collect, why I collect makes me, me.  It is fun and enjoyable.  That works for me–and guides me.

Some LVR s Models Small Part of the Collection

And that’s my story–so far, since once upon a time.  (And, happily, I no longer collect old razor blades.  https://memoriesofatime.blog/2013/10/25/confessions-of-an-addict-reflections-on-collecting/)

 © JAMES F O’NEIL 2018

airplane-ride-birthday-ride.jpg

JIMMY PREPARING FOR TAKEOFF IN BI-PLANE

 

 

 

 

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

PART I: TRAINS

“One of the things the government can’t do is run anything.  The only things our government runs are the post office and the railroads, and both of them are bankrupt.”  — Lee Iacocca

***

Once upon a time, a long time ago, after my Grandpa Cummings had retired from many years with the Pennsylvania Railroad, pennsylvania railroad symbolhe took me to visit a friend of his at a switching yard on the South Side of Chicago.  The three of us walked through the roundhouse, walked among the rails, and even watched to see the railroad turntable in operation.

In rail terminology, a railway turntable or wheelhouse is a device for turning railroad rolling stock, usually locomotives, so that they can be moved back in the direction from which they came.  Railroads needed a way to turn steam locomotives around for return trips as their controls were often not railway turntableconfigured for extended periods of running in reverse, and in many locomotives the top speed was lower in reverse motion.  In the case of diesel locomotives, though most can be operated in either direction, they are treated as having “front ends” and “rear ends” (often determined by reference to the location of the crew cab).  When operated as a single unit, the railway company often prefers, or requires, that a diesel locomotive be run “front end” first.  All this is visually and masterfully shown in the movie with Denzel Washington, Unstoppable.unstoppable train of denzel

So, the three of us, walking up to a diesel whose engine was running, climbed aboard.  I sat on my Grandpa’s lap for a bit, then stood at the controls.  And he moved the control my hand was on.  We moved.  Forward, ever so slowly, down a length of track.  Surely, I did not wet my pants, but surely, my rheumatic-fever heart was racing in excitement.  Yes, I sat at the engineer’s controls, with my grandfather standing next to me, and we powered the engine forward.  Slowly, I pushed the control lever forward (or sideways).  I was eleven or twelve, maybe 1951 or 1952.  Those ages and dates are not part of the details.  I was there.  The smell of fuel, the motors’ noises, the motion of the train engine I cannot forget.  How many young boys have had such an experience to talk about?  (Don’t tell Homeland Security that I actually “drove” a diesel engine in a switching yard on the South Side of Chicago.)

Pennsylvania RR diesel by RRPictureArchives Net Kim Piersol Pennsylvania RR diesel

I have had an on-again, off-again love affair for trains.  I did have a Christmas-present American Flyer electric train set that never seemed to work properly: maybe parts, maybe the rugs or the floor or the connections.  Lionel-boys always had more success with theirs; we Flyer-types were not as lucky with our two-track system american flyer track from ebay (though that was not always the problem).  Lionel had the heavier three-track, more expensive gauge sets, parts, transformers–all the right “stuff.” lionel on ebay.jpg So my frustration abounded, as trains were taken out and put away; I never had a basement with a large open space for a board for a train layout.  [An interesting bit of Wiki-history: During the 1950s, Lionel outsold its closest competitor, American Flyer, by nearly 2:1, peaking in 1953.  Some Lionel company histories say Lionel (more than just trains) was the largest toy company in the world by the early 1950s.  The 1946–1956 decade was Lionel’s Golden Age.  The Lionel 2333 Diesel locomotive, an EMD F3 in the colorful Santa Fe “Warbonnet” paint scheme that was introduced in 1948, atsf-347c-emd-f7a-santa-fe-diesel-electric-locomotive-wernher-krutein became the Lionel company icon and the icon of the era, yet Lionel declined rapidly after 1956.  Hobbyists preferred the smaller but more realistic HO scale trains, and children’s interest shifted from toy trains to toy cars.  Efforts to increase train set profitability and/or sales by cheaper manufacture (largely by replacing castings and folded sheet metal with unpainted injected-molded colored plastic) were largely unsuccessful; 1957 was Lionel’s last profitable post-war year.  In 1959, the business direction of the Lionel company changed: it added subsidiary companies unrelated to toy train sets.  The company lost more money. See more in Wikipedia.]

Trains have continued to be part of my transporting life.

Back in the ‘50s, our family vacationed for many years for a week or two at the Shubat’s Resort.  That was cabin livin’ summer cottage sisters lakes

though with indoor plumbing and beautiful water and great fishin’,

at Sisters Lakes, Michigan.  sisterlakesmichigan.jpgNot well known, but better recognized if I say “near Dowagiac,” or Benton Harbor.  Those were great growing-up summers with my cousins and siblings, and “friend-girls” from different neighborhoods in Chicago. 

One memorable summer of my hormonal youth, a sophomore in college, I was on a train, going to that Michigan Paradise with Laverne, meeting our families who were already there.  She and I had grown-up conversations; she was the grown up, the neighbor lady to my aunt, the Eloise to me-Abelard-sans letters, the Isolde to me-Tristan, my Guinevere, my courtly-loved.  She was married with kids.  I was young, naive, infatuated.  So much to think about on that train ride.  That so special train ride…from Chicago to Michigan.

During the summer of 1968, I spent time in Delta House!  On the campus of the University of Minnesota, taking a few post-grad grad courses.  Three courses, small room with bed and dresser, shared bath and shower and fridge and cereal cabinet.  Delicious library, smoking in the classrooms, considering how my light (time) was spent with John Milton and a totally delightful professor, but unfortunately also with a totally boring Shakespeare scholar.  The other peak experiences were the bus rides to the train station to board and train-ride south to Winona to visit wife and kids for a weekender, with them and no books.  And then back again on Sunday night or early Monday morning.  Those train rides that held the memories of the weekend activities, loving and familial.

Though my train-love has given way to airplanes, I still am fascinated by the sounds, and sights, and history, and large-sized picture books of trains.  And have still used the rails in my life of travel. 

I did have a horribly uncomfortable coach- ride to Richmond, Virginia, not many years past, S-L-O-W, CREAKY, AND UNSLEEPABLE.  “It will be some time before I board a train again!” you might have heard me say.  Those trains in Europe?  We’ve seen Jason Bourne speed across European countryside on the TGV.  TGV-Duplex-21.jpg Yes, I have done that too.  And the “Chunnel” Eurostar, London to Paris?  Yup, that too.  London to Carlisle, to Cambridge, to Oxford.  Never yet to Cornwall or Land’s End, or to see Doc Martin’s place.  Mostly–mostly–friendly, delightful, memorable. 

I’ve waited for a train on Platform 9 ¾ in London, at King’s Cross Station…and waitied…and waited…9 3-4 KINGS CROSS STATION

And in 2013, Paris to Chartres…  That’s  how I want to travel by train.  Maybe someday on the Orient Express?  Probably, not. 

However, I’ve heard the Canadian Pacific has a beautiful train route…  Canadian-Rockies.jpg

Perhaps…

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2017

 

 

 

 

 

Me Da:

MORTIMER J O'NEILYoung Mortimer J O’Neil

 

from Irishman James Joyce writing in Ulysses: “Waiting outside pubs to bring da home.”

MOM AND DAD at uncle leonard's 1943Uncle Leonard’s Place

 

In many Irish-American families, children sometimes used the familiar or informal “Da” for “father” or “Dad.”  It would be pronounced like “Dad” without the final d, not “Dah” as in “la-di-da.”  (We were not typical Irish-American; we were Irish-German-Bohemian.)

MJO AT 1957 Picnic Memories1957

 

Always he knew how to wear a traditional fedora.  And knew how to tip his hat to a woman–or especially to a nun:DAD des plaines 19601960

Without a doubt, one of the happiest of times–memoriesofatime–being told by me Da and me:

JIM AND DAD OCTOBER 1963October 12, 1963

 

I don’t remember me da ever cursing or swearing.  Really?  Well, maybe once or twice on a delivery that went bad, he could have shared a bar of Lifebuoy soap with Ralphie.  But I loved it when he exclaimed: “Are ye daft?”

Dad O'Neil last in color

MJO 1901-1983

 

 ©  JAMES F O’NEIL  2017 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“A fingerprint in its narrow sense is an impression left by the friction ridges of a human finger.  Fingerprints are easily deposited on suitable surfaces (such as glass or metal or polished stone) by the natural secretions of sweat from the eccrine glands that are present in epidermal ridges.  In a wider use of the term, fingerprints are the traces of an impression from the friction ridges of any part of a human hand. 

“Deliberate impressions of fingerprints may be formed by ink or other substances transferred from the peaks of friction ridges on the skin to a relatively smooth surface such as a fingerprint card.  Fingerprint records normally contain impressions from the pad on the last joint of fingers and thumbs, although fingerprint cards also typically record portions of lower joint areas of the fingers.

“Human fingerprints are detailed, nearly unique, difficult to alter, and durable over the life of an individual, making them suitable as long-term markers of human identity.  They may be employed by police or other authorities to identify individuals who wish to conceal their identity, or to identify people who are incapacitated or deceased, as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”  [See Wikipedia for more material’]

Where is Thumbkin?  Where is Thumbkin?
(Hide hands behind back)
Here I am! Here I am!
(Show L thumb, then R thumb)
How are you today, sir?
(Wiggle L thumb)
Very well, I thank you.
(Wiggle R thumb)
Run away, run away.
(Hide LH behind back, then RH)

[This is a song often sung in Head Start classes I taught, bringing memoriesofatime.]

jim's thumbThis is my Thumbkin [my thumb].

 fingerprint identification chartThis is a fingerprint identification chart.

History of MY LEFT THUMBKIN: SMASHED in a church door when I was a youngster in Chicago (with little memories of that pain).  SMASHED in a friend’s car door while I was in college:  “Good night.  Thanks for the ride home.”  SLAM!  Car begins to pull away.  “WAIT!” as I scream in pain, pounding on the passenger’s side window, Thumbkin still in the door.  In the Emergency Room, I looked at the thumb twice the size as normal, bruised and blue and internally bleeding.  But flattened.  And the throbbing.  Throbbing.  Throbbing.  “Scalpel.”  Holes drilled into the nail.  Pain and blood. 

Later: August 1964: Rochester, Minnesota, Airport parking lot.  Slipped, fell, and slid along asphalt, Thumbkin extended.  ER: cleansing of bits and pieces of Minnesota, stitches, and awful drilling into the bruised and battered nail, throbbing.  And throbbing.  And throbbing.  Young ER resident took an alcohol lamp, bent a paperclip, grabbed it with a forceps.  Taking the red-hot paperclip, he pssit pssit pssit pssit pssit five holes into the nail, blood squirting and oozing.  NO PAIN!  “Just a trick I learned in med school.”

My fingerprints are on file.  Or not…

I was first fingerprinted in the spring of 1963, for a government position: The U. S. Post Office [USPS].  Once more, in 1980, then in 2003–all for positions with public agencies.  After retirement, I applied as a free-lancer, and once more needed to have my prints updated.  “Mr. O’Neil, could you come with me, please.”  I followed down the long hall in the administrative offices, in 2010, and was led into a small room.  On a small table was a device I had never before seen.  “You’ll have to insert your left thumb into that hole with the red light.”  “Is there a problem?”  “You don’t seem to have fingerprints.  We need to do a deeper, thorough examination of your ridges, that’s all.”  After some time, I was given the proper directions and allowed to leave.  “But whatever happened to my prints?”  I had asked before leaving.  “Acid…” 

My professional career began in 1963.  I had a few hobbies–coin collecting, for one– but none like doing stained glass work, from 1990-2014, until my back “gave out”–and I could no longer lift and bend like before.  I had to stop.  An essential part of working with glass and solder is the use of acid flux.

flux

Paste Flux

A flux (derived from Latin fluxus meaning “flow”) is a chemical cleaning agent, flowing agent, or purifying agent, for metal joining.  Flux allows solder to flow easily on the working piece rather than forming beads as it would otherwise.  Flux is usually, normally, applied with a brush, to the joints to be soldered. 

soldering and leading

Stained Glass Piece Soldered Restoration

But in the turning and moving of a glass piece being worked on, if the artist does not wear gloves, flux begins to work on the skin and, of course, the finger tips.  Flux is an acid, and a poison.POISON SYMBOL.pngMy fingertips would peel; I thought nothing of it.  No pain.  Just washed well.  I did my best to take care, and did wear gloves as often as possible, but…

And that’s the real story of my thumb and fingerprints… 

In the minds of some, however, there exists another story, one of fascination, intrigue, and cover and covert operations:  passportThat my forty-year teaching career concealed my true identity and sheltered my true profession:  CIA Operative.  How this story may have been initiated and by whom puzzles me.

I see no resemblance to any “secret agent.”

JIM 1966 SMC haircut 2

JIM

jason bourne as Matt Damon

JASON

These pictures were taken many years ago, and I never remember telling stories to my boys who might have had over-active imaginations, with their Batman and Robin, and other hero-Super-hero themes in their lives.  Why would I have told the kids about the CIA?  Did someone else tell them?  Well, that story–and the fingerprint issue–just needs to be put to rest once and for all.  And that is that.

BTW: Here’s a picture of one of my favorite authors who, along with Robert Ludlum, did write good political intrigue fiction.

P612300 RED

TOM CLANCY

Here’s a recent picture of me that fell out of a folder…jim tom clancy.jpg 

© James F. O’Neil  2017 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[MOTHER’S DAY GIFT: REVISION OF MAY 2014 POSTING]

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

MOTHERS’ DAY: The current holiday was created in 1908 as a day to honor one’s mother.  President Woodrow Wilson made the day an official national holiday in 1914.

Have you ever been asked, “Who is the person you most admired from your childhood?”  I believed from once upon a time that everything “must be true.  My mother said so.”

Yes, that worked for me, with my religion of motherolatry.  I thought it was true: My mother was all-powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise–seeing all.

M-O-M = G-O-D.

Then it happened: 9th grade for sure.  World History.  Discussion question about . . . and my answer: “My mother said so.”  And the teacher’s response: “Your mother is not God!” shouted back by my man-teacher wearing his black cassock.  “NO?”

How could I have been so naive?  How did I ever make it into high school believing that my mother had the VERUM VERBUM, the true word?  When did I stop believing?  When did I come to that realization the Game of Life was changing?  That I had to learn for myself?

verbum-dei

Somewhere, sometime, I said, “NO!” to Mom-God.  There I was, probably shaking while or after the words came from my mouth.  My Act of Rebellion.

And so it goes in the Game of Life, as we grow through adolescence into adulthood (which my pop-psychology taught me.  Or was that Gail Sheehy: Tryout Twenties, Turbulent Thirties, Flourishing Forties, Flaming Fifties, and Serene Sixties?).

* * *

I cannot imagine not having a mother, losing her to disease [Steel Magnolias], in a car accident [Raising Helen], in childbirth [The Sign], to a hunter’s bullet [Bambi], or to the many other awful things that happen to mothers before their children know them. 

“I lost my mother when I was five.”  “I don’t remember my mother.”  “My mother died of cancer, when I was seventeen.”  “My mom never came home from the party.”

And on it went, as I read college essay after college essay, year after year, for over twenty years.  This question was my choice.  I wanted my students to do personal narratives by which they could express themselves–and do their best writing–I hoped.

As the semesters ended, I turned to my readings.  Often tired, I usually would become pensive while reading.  I tried to be an objective reader, weighing the writing against the grading standards.  Yet so often I was pulled into the story being told.  I think I was, at times, like Miss Lonelyhearts [by Nathaniel West], encountering sad story after sad story, truth stranger than fiction.  I could not help it.

Essays ranged from the “My mother took care of me when I was sick” to “My mom had it rough raising the nine of us with no father…or with a druggie father…or with an alcoholic father…or with a___ father.”  [How did she manage?]

While I was drifting off, and away from the papers, my own questions, my own answers snuck in: How did my mother manage to sleep, work nights (mostly), raise the four of us, and keep up with the household duties–and be a wife, too?

Doing the dishes was the job that fell to my sister, Janice, and me.  We learned–and were outstanding dish-doers.  “Glasses, knives, and forks.  Dishes, pots, and pans.”  That was The Sacred Order.  I learned that way, from Mom.  [Trait One: MANAGER]

Years before (maybe when in 9th grade?) as I was washing coffee cups after supper, I reached into the soapy water, reaching after a cup that slipped from my soapy left hand.  My hand went automatically to retrieve the cup, but the broken cup sliced into the fingers of my left hand.  Blood in the water.  Panic from the immediate intense pain, soap-in-cut.  My sister screaming for, of course, “M-O-M!”  [Trait Two: NURSE]

“Mom, can you read my story before you go to work?”  [Trait Three: GRAMMARIAN]  ‘Nuff said.

grammarian amazon

Mothers cheer us on: “You can do it.  Go ahead!  Go ahead!”  I remember vividly, her feeling good on a warm Saturday evening in Chicago.  She had just ridden the (used) small bicycle bought for me.  I ran alongside her with glee.  At the corner, she turned around, giving me the bike.  My turn.  My first two-wheeler.

“You can do it.  Try again,” I heard as I tried to gain balance, but fell into the bushes.  Getting up, scratched arms be damned!, I tried again.  Her laughing encouragement behind me grew as I cycled away from her.  At the end of the sidewalk, near the alley, I stopped (applying the brakes expertly), then fell over–and off.  I turned back to see my mom waiting at the end of the street.  I rode to her.  “Expertly,” of course.  Yeah, wobbling from side to side, houses’ steps and bushes on the right, grass-curb-city street on the left.  I pedaled the gauntlet.  To Mom.  [Trait Four: CYCLIST TRAINER]

50s bicycle

50s BICYCLE (CREDIT: LIVEAUCTIONEERS)

“What do you think I should do?”

If there is one question I ask, probably more than any other, it is “What do you think I should do?”  My kids do it.  My wife does it.  We all do it.

Looking over my Early Asking Age to now, I realize this has to be The Ultimate Question: Each of us is a Grand Inquisitor.  We seek answers.  I seek (and sought) answers.  However, the answers that come from “What do you think I should do?”, though not unique to kids asking moms, make us Deciders.  For the answer usually is, “You’ll have to decide.”  It means, “You’ll have to make up your own mind–and live with it.”  This is not cold, harsh, cruel, but is concerning, caring, and–when I think more about it–allowing the Inquisitor to grow and live.  Therefore, we talk and discuss and ask: “What should we do?”

Yes, just like a mom, she said, “Yes, you’ll have to decide.”  Just as I expected, not unexpected.  [Trait Five: NON-DECIDER/DECIDER]

Good move, for, as we all know so well, not just Mother Nature, but “Mother knows best” (often).

So I would search those student essays for goodness and admiration, stories that demonstrated “goodness” and “admiration.”  “All the good” moms do . . . “is oft interred with their bones.”

NO!  The good DOES live after them.  I CAN recall the good times, the admired times; memories of the hard times, the rough times; illnesses, job layoffs, or . . . .”

Too, from Trait Five, I learned: to be able to reach decisions, come to conclusions, after rational thought, not impulse thoughts, but rather, like a good Indiana Jones Crusader, to choose wisely.

 So, “The person I most admire from childhood . . . .”

 © James F. O’Neil   2014;  Rev. 2017

* * *

 ~Irish Proverb: “A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.”

happy-mothers-day shlomoandvitos.com

(CREDIT: shlomoandvitos.com)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

“To work together, words need help.  They need connecting words, and they need punctuation.  All methods of punctuation point the way for the reader, gathering, linking, separating, and emphasizing what truly matters.  These marks are more than squiggles on a page.  They are the ligaments of meaning and purpose.”  –Roy Peter Clark, The Glamour of Grammar, 2010.

At one English conference I attended, long into my teaching career, I listened to a speaker lecture about grammar, and teaching punctuation.  I heard him say clearly that the semicolon was such a sophisticated piece of punctuation that it should not be used until students were in 12th grade!  Sophistication, and more.

semicolons

It differs from everything else–the comma, colon, period–yet incorporates each with a semblance of “uniqueness”: slow…explain…stop.  All at the same time.  But it’s a slow-stopper, not a full-stopper.  A breather.  (“Take a breath,” it says.)  It is just so useful, so delightful, so important, and so special.  Not to be easily misused.  Roy Peter Clark describes it as an object that connects and separates at the same time, like a swinging gate, even: “a barrier that forces separation but invites you to pass through to the other side” (Glamour of Grammar).  It is so special.

But it wasn’t always so special then as it is to me now.  Memories of a time: My latest high school composition returned to me.  The paper had red-pen bleedings…D31…here and there, with some comments written in the margins, from my teacher Father William Flaherty.  william-flaherty-ma-stl

These bloody droppings, references to items in our writing handbook [which I still keep under pain of excommunication!], these codes, symbols, cryptic messages…D31…we would have to consult, we would try to learn well enough before the next theme or essay was due.  It did not always work that way so easily.  Repeatedly I would make those same mistakes/errors…D31…until…the semester ended. 

writing-handbook HANDBOOK USED 1956-1960

New semester: same rules about that pesky semicolon.  But more “sophisticated” examples for us to follow.  For the next year.  And the next.  Then the end of 12th grade.  Done with all the gobbledygook about punctuation and grammar rules.  “All done.  I’m putting that handbook away!”  Then: College.  More writing books, like The Elements of Style.  Never did I expect D31 to follow me, to become such a part of my writing life.  I was impressed with D31, impressed upon by D31:

“Use a semicolon rather than a comma before and, or, nor, but, and for in a compound sentence if–A Either clause is long–say, three or four lines.  B Either clause contains a comma, colon, dash, or parentheses.”    

That’s how I learned it; that’s how I used it; that’s how I taught it.  So here I am, so many years later, out of the classroom, yet still concerned with punctuation and with the special semicolon.

How special?  When I first read not long ago the words “Project Semicolon” in a blog posting, I thought it was another grammar site, part of the Common Core, intending to teach today’s students in elementary and high school grades the sophistication and beauty of using the semicolon.  I became excited that there existed devotion still to punctuation, and especially to my favorite special mark.  What a surprise when I clicked on the link:  http://www.projectsemicolon.org/

PROJECT SEMICOLON is a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.  PROJECT SEMICOLON exists to encourage, love, and inspire.  How fitting a sign the “organization” has chosen to symbolize the purpose of the group: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to.  You are the author and the sentence is your life.  Your story is not over.”  The mark is most often seen or displayed as a tattoo, placed behind an ear or on an arm or wrist.  It often represents the wearer’s past (the before), the present (the now), and what will or can be or should be (the future): a “slow-stopper,” not a “full-stopper,” indicating that there is more to come, more to the story. 

So why would someone ever have a tattoo of a punctuation mark, for everyone to see?  Is this like “wearing a heart upon a sleeve”?  I believe so.  To be very open about one’s emotions, not ashamed of the past, being honest; being loyal and truthful in the present, with no secrets; and perhaps never to forget the adventure of life to come, the future.  Openness and honesty is risky business.  It takes courage to admit, to “come out,” as it were.  And the tattoo is symbolic of this.  I like it, endorse it, support it, and support the organization.

semicolon-arm-tattoo

There it is: I am a marked man.  An impressed man.  My tat indicates a story to be told; or it promises, better, that something lies beneath the embedded ink and the skin–perhaps some “in-depth” meaning.  And that explanation is saved, remains, for another day.

©  James F. O’Neil  2017

 

 

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