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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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In Search of Lost Time/À la recherche du temps perdupreviously also translated as Remembrance of Things Pastis that novel in seven volumes, written by Marcel Proust (1871–1922), often heard about, often to-be-read, often-never-read (finished).  It is considered his most prominent work, known both for its length and for its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine” which occurs early in the first volume.  The novel recounts the experiences of the narrator (who is never definitively named) while he is growing up, learning about art, participating in society, and falling in love.  The novel has been pronounced as “the most respected novel of the twentieth century” or “the major novel of the twentieth century.”

Involuntary memory, also known as involuntary explicit memory, involuntary conscious memory, involuntary aware memory, and most commonly, involuntary autobiographical memory, is a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort.  (Voluntary memory is characterized by a deliberate effort to recall the past.)

Precious fragments are those parts of involuntary memories that arise in everyday mental functioning, comprising the most common occurrences, characterized by their element of surprise, as they appear to come into conscious awareness spontaneously.  They are the products of common everyday experiences such as eating a piece of apple pie, or the smell of Crayolas, or the sound of a fire engine or freight train, bringing to mind a past experience.  (Not-so-precious fragments are some involuntary memories arising from traumatic experiences, repetitive memories of traumatic events, like those parts of PTSD).

Proustian memory: Marcel Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory.  He viewed involuntary memory as containing the “essence of the past,” describing an incident where he was eating tea soaked cake; then a childhood memory of eating tea soaked cake with his aunt was “revealed” to him.  From this memory, he proceeded to be reminded of the childhood home he was in, and even the town itself.  This becomes a theme throughout In Search of Lost Time, with sensations reminding the author-narrator of previous experiences.  He dubbed these “involuntary memories.”  [Wikipedia information]

For further interest and current research on why you might be reminded of…when you see…, look at Chaining, Priming, Reminiscence bump, Trauma-related Intrusions, PTSD.

(Stressful and traumatic events, which may manifest as involuntary memories called flashbacks, may trigger a wide range of anxiety-based and psychotic disorders.  Social phobia, bipolar disorder, depression, and agoraphobia are a few examples of disorders that have influences from flashbacks.)

“The role of memory is central to Proust’s novel, introduced with the famous madeleine episode in the first section of the novel; and in the last volume, Time Regained, a flashback similar to that caused by the madeleine is the beginning of the resolution of the story.  Throughout the work, many similar instances of involuntary memory, triggered by sensory experiences such as sights, sounds, and smells conjure important memories for the narrator and sometimes return attention to an earlier episode of the novel.  Although Proust wrote contemporaneously with Sigmund Freud, with there being many points of similarity between their thought on the structures and mechanisms of the human mind, neither author read the other.”  [Wikipedia notes]

interrobang

 

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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

 

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