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ANECDOTES

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

I have done the “What walks on …?  four-, two-, three-feet bit,” as I put my cane into the corner.  (I use it for short walks.  I do have a four-wheeler for longer jaunts.)

Born in 1941, retired now, after nearly fifty years in academics and education, I find myself more often asking, “Is that all there is?”  Rarely, “What’s next?”  Well, it has been quite a ride, when I consider how my light is spent, bumps and all, roller coaster and carousel, too.  Mostly, mostly enjoyable, some fascinating journeys and trips. 

What has been important in these years has been success and money.  As a teacher, I always had the first, never the latter.  Seriously?  No: Family and health, with some good fortune and luck added for good measure.  Looking back upon 77 years, I can say, realistically, “It all worked out.”  “There are no accidents.”  “It was meant to be,” I was often told (or, read, “It’s God’s Divine Plan).

So let me report, let me give an AAR–After Action Review: My Various Systems.  HEALTH: I don’t exercise (as I should).  Walking hurts.  I’m not at all motivated, this coming from a guy who smoked Camels a pack a day for 12 years, then quit, cold turkey; a guy who has been clean and sober for over four years (15-year-old-scotch…ah, memoriesofatime), but who is certified addicted to chocolate.  And it shows…  Perhaps too much dark chocolate as I am trying to keep myself “heart healthy”?  Dove, Sport, M&Ms, Fannie May dark-chocolate-covered orange peels: Celestial.

I am READING less and less, having discarded more books (donated and trashed), hardly any fiction, but filling my Kindle (catching up on some classics, like Proust, Joyce, Dos Passos, and Dreiser; Wolfe, Farrell, and Dostoyevsky.  I even captured some Dickens, Conrad, and Anna Karenina, to name-drop a few!)–forty-one classics now, just in case I cannot carry any magazines or books with me into the hospital, should I fall ill. 

I am subscribing to TIME, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Handguns.  I do have an un-read biography of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, and the latest book of essays by my favorite, Joseph Epstein, The Ideal of Culture.  (Epstein suggests name-dropping when possible.)

My semi-sedentary retiree retired life is fertile ground for movie watching.  Not too much “real” TV (Jeopardy, Sunday Morning with Jane Pauley, unbiased factual truthful news stations, like…), but Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO–gifted by kids and grandkids–provide the viewing pleasure to supplement our personal DVD collection of favorites.  Rarely do we step out into the dark of a movie-theater-eating-experience, unless for some blockbuster.  Rare.

The AIRPLANE COLLECTING I began in 2004 has come to a taxied halt.  No more new models have interested me for over a year now.  Cost of metals has made collecting a sophisticated hobby; fewer models are being produced.  I have enough, a good representation of those I value for their history or their particular insignia markings.  (My collection peaked at 125 large models; 50 remain.)

My BLOG (htpps://www.memoriesofatime.blog) postings are becoming less frequent–and take much more time than when I began in 2013.  Not that I have no available topics, but just concentrating–and finding retirement time.  TIME, for retirees, is elusive, not what it is thought or imagined to be: Too many doctor visits to make me in perfect or better-than-normal health. Other things keep coming along that take up time: laundry, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, sunset watching, listening to Pandora while relaxing, naps (a MUST daily), journaling, and even time with a great-grandson.

And “So it goes!” wrote Kurt Vonnegut.  So it goes, another year in Paradise (the move to Florida in 1980 was best).  Another year closer to 80.  That’s really a Big One, some believe.  No doubt, I’ll have another Great Reflection at Turning 80.  Why not?

A writer I do read (name-dropping Joseph Epstein) wrote that he made a pact to give up smoking in return for good health, and wished to live to eighty.  Then he would start smoking again.  He has made it; he’s been rather healthy.  Yet he has not started smoking again.  Makes perfect sense to me.

I have an occasional cigar, on my way to 80.  Chinese food almost monthly; Chicago hot dogs (NEVER ketchup!) whenever; Greek; Italian; pizza and wings; and Cubans, maybe too often.  Of course, along with Sonny’s and Texas Roadhouse, and Ale House.  Yet the home chicken and rice recipes also keep us in good health, with good cholesterol levels!

And so it goes, towards “Happy Birthday!”  You will not, however, hear from me, “Pack of Camels, please!”

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  21 APRIL 2018

 

jimmy 8-3-41

BABY JIMMY 8-3-1941

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

CHARISMA: Synonyms: allure, appeal, attractiveness, charm, glamor, magnetism, pizzazz (or pizazz).  Example: Her acting skills were recognized and her significant screen charisma widely acknowledged.

I was told in speech class that from Ancient Greek χᾰ́ρῐσμᾰ (khárisma, “grace, favor, gift”), from χᾰρῐ́ζομαι (kharízomai, “I show favor”), from χᾰ́ρῐς (kháris, “grace”), from χαίρω (khaírō, “I am happy”) is easily translated for speech or drama as “ham,” as in “hamming it up.”  Some have it; some don’t.  It’s a divinely conferred gift or power.  Yet it is luck, too.

A drama can be “a composition in prose or verse presenting in dialogue or pantomime a story involving conflict or contrast of character, especially one intended to be acted on the stage,” known as “a play.”  Simply put, and easy to remember, it is “character portrayal in action.”

We’ve all had or have basic Aristotelian dramatic lives, with beginning, middle, and–of course–The End.  Some lives are more dramatic than others–cover life-stories on People or Time, historical, political, religious lives.  Some longer than others; some “snuffed out,” like brief “candles in the wind,” sadly “before their time.”

Yes, our lives are a series of ups and downs: Rising Action, Falling Action, with Complications and Crises and Climaxes–and Denouements, for good measure.  As Kurt Vonnegut put it so well, “So it goes.”

Therefore, aside from the “usual” “dramatic” entrance at the “miracle” of birth most of us make, and then our daily living, careers, jobs, opportunities,  few of us have or have had the actual opportunity to play out a drama or two on a stage, to “tread the boards,” before an audience.  “LIGHTS!”  “CURTAINS!”  –complete with rehearsals and line readings and memorizations, greasepaint, and costuming.

I never had a burning desire to have my name in Broadway lights or my name in Playbill.  Yet I did have some exciting times with theater/theatre and drama, both teaching and acting.

What did I know without ever having had an acting course?  Where did it all begin?  How does it go, “Once upon a time…”?

Doing puppet shows for the kids in the neighborhood when I was in elementary school, I was known as a “ham” for some time.  I remember in 7th grade being in the front of the classroom, sitting on a wooden stool, dressed in a fuzzy men’s bathrobe (my dad’s): “Bah!  Humbug!”  My lines uttered in my first great “stage” production!

scrooge

My career took off!  Smaller roles were offered me as I progressed, a few high school plays, bit parts, minor roles.  (I did have trouble with memorization, a definite downside for one seeking a stage experience.)  Roles in college were limited, though I performed in at least one theater-in-the-round production, and in the musical Oklahoma, when I was a junior.

One important dramatic lead I had was in The Potting Shed, a 1957 play by Graham Greene.  The psychological drama centers on a secret held by the Callifer family for nearly thirty years, a mysterious moment that occurred in the family’s potting shed.  Family members recall the event, but “vital lies, simple truths” left a son rejected by his father, alienated from his family, and alone in the world.

Potting Shed cover

I had the good fortune to play Father Callifer, the whiskey priest.  No other part has moved me more or had a greater effect on my later life.  [Some other acting I also did as a member of a folk-singing group.]

And then it was over, I thought.  College ended.  “English-Philosophy Major seeking work”: My jobs included hospital orderly, parts-man for a large electronics company, and USPS mail-truck driver.  Then the big break, not at all planned as part of my “career goals” (my Uncle Bill thought I would make a great salesman): full-time teaching, with benefits and perks.

My first teaching job in 1963 paid $4500 a year and “Have you any drama experience?”  “Of course.”  “That’s another $250.  We have a new auditorium and stage.  You’ll be the first drama coach.”  And into the fire of the crucible I went, to be tested.

Brother Orchid was the first real play I ever “directed.” 

robinson-bogart-brother-orchid

Based on a 1940 movie in which Edward G. Robinson plays an orchid-loving gangster (!), Little John Sarto, who aspires to “real class.”  It’s a good ‘40s gangster movie, and a delightful play for an all-boys /men’s high school.  Our total budget was $100.00.  My wife was the make-up artist, using her best “putting-on-her-face” skills to a bunch of young men who probably have never forgotten the newlywed-wife of the newly-initiated English teacher/Drama Coach.

The play is fun to do and fun to watch.  Sarto the Gangster is being usurped by another mobster (Humphrey Bogart).  Not wanting to be “rubbed out,” Sarto escapes to and hides out in a monastery.  Pretending he would like to become a monk himself, with humor and plot twists and resolutions, the gangster who likes flowers decides to become Brother Orchid, and does find real class.

The play was a hit, with its good acting, homemade sets, and parents’ support and help in the wings.  Delightful.  And I was re-hired for another year, this time to teach juniors and seniors, and to do one major play.  So goes the history: Stalag 17.  Success, and more homemade sets and another $100 budget.  Then, my best production in my third year, mostly with seniors, many who were now “drama-savvy,” was Twelve Angry Men.

12 angry men cover

The father of one of the lead “actors” organized a party for cast and crew.  The seniors were moving on; I was leaving the school for a new adventure in college teaching.  My drama career was over.  Not a long run, by many standards, but a few opening nights and a few successes.

I’ve seen plays, professional and non-professional, fewer operas, and have watched many, many movies (visual cinematic screenPLAYS).  I have my favorites of each: West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet), La bohème, Phantom of the Opera, Macbeth (dark and bloody-hell), Shakespeare in Love (a favorite, a love story about acting and drama and Shakespeare–and, of course, mystery); the movie and play-within-a play A Chorus Line; and my favorite?  Of all of Shakespeare?  Movie (and its versions)?  Othello: Ah!  War, jealousy, sex, intrigue, love, racism, murder, suicide–and that green-eyed monster JEALOUSY.  What great drama!

Looking back now at all my directing and acting, the happy and the sad, the fun and the serious–all part of my dramatic life–I reflect upon my brief tale, no woe, just good drama, and great memoriesofatime.  Because of all this, in many ways I do appreciate acting, plays, and movies more since I have been “there”–not making movies, but the acting part.  The hard work part.  And, that part that got me high school yearbook recognition: “DRAMA CLUB.”  Reward enough.

How to end here?  “Our revels now are ended”?  Or maybe, “All’s well that ends well”?  I thought I might end with Macbeth’s familiar lines: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player // That struts and frets his hour upon the stage // And then is heard no more.”  (Macbeth 5.5.23-26)  Powerful.  But not uplifting, though “dramatic” enough.

No, I thought I needed a real Swan Song, that which represented and summarized all my life and the liveliness of My Dramatic Life:

oklahoma

O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A!

OKLAHOMA!

YEOW!

[Exeunt]

© JAMES F O’NEIL 2018

 

 “The rarer action is // In virtue than in vengeance.”  The Tempest 5.1.27-28 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

PART III: AUTOMOBILES

“I’d ban all automobiles from the central part of the city.  You see, the automobile was just a passing fad.  It’s got to go.  It’s got to go a long way from here.”  –Lawrence Ferlinghetti

* * * *

A.  Driving My Mom: My mother worked at the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Chicago. This was one of her jobs I can remember.  She worked from 11 pm–7 am.  She didn’t drive to work.  She didn’t drive–ever.  And no one ever let her take a bus or subway at night.  So, someone had to drive her to work each night, leaving at around 9:30 pm.  For years my dad did this while I was in high school.  When I earned my driver’s license, I became the chauffeur, even on some school nights, most of my duties coming in 1958-1960, with our 1956 Chevy.  What great driving experience, learning city streets, unencumbered by daytime traffic.  And, in the spring and summer, what beautiful rides home, windows down, radio-for-teen-driver blaring along the Outer Drive.  Home from college on vacation, I assumed my duties once again as she continued to work.  (She always took public transportation home in the mornings.)  [My fiancé and I did enjoy making some off-to-work trips for my mom.  On the return, we had a chance to stop at Oak Street Beach or some other beautiful place to spend some quiet time together.] 

* * * *

No doubt each of us has stories–memoriesofatime–we can relate about our automobiles or driving habits and incidents or how we first committed “vehicularism”: “steering any automotive vehicle in a proper and correct manner; learning to drive a vehicle appropriately.”  My enumeration of vehicles I’ve had and used, from my “First,” a 1950 Ford to my current 2016 KIA SOUL, may be longer than some, shorter than others.’  But with each car or auto, there goes at least one anecdote, or several stories, that could go on for pages of memories.  A few, however, I highlight as part of my trilogy “Are We There Yet?”

* * * *

When young, growing up, I never played cops-n-robbers.  I never played cowboys-n-Indians (though I did have a cap gun six-shooter).  I played Soldiers at War.  I crawled through bushes and along city sidewalks and through alleys, skinning my knees, carrying my Thompson “Tommy” gun–or I would set up the “50-cal” on its tripod in the front yard.  In the house, I played fighter pilot or bombardier.  Mostly Flip Corkin of Terry and the Pirates, or Steve Canyon–or John Wayne as a Flying Tiger.   

terry_pirates

The elevated, behind our apartment building in Chicago, ran parallel to Van Buren Street.  Under that dark brown rusting structure, my sister and I played.  When the family’s ’37 Plymouth was parked there, we drove for miles and miles in our imaginations, swinging around the steering wheel, working the pedals.  (Did we have anything to do with the clutch going out, and the purchase of that sleek black ’49 Ford?  Hmmm.)

els bad name alleyElevated Tracks and Alley

Our first “big people” car was the two-tone Our Family Chevy, 1952.  I thought I could drive that car, bold and brassy “big people” that I thought I was becoming!  However, of course, I had to wait awhile…for the Chevrolet 210, new, in 1956.  This was to be my real learning-taught-mobile.

 

1956-Chevy-210-ORIGINAL-SURVIVOR-TRUE-BARN-FIND

1956 Chevrolet 210

In this car, my dad taught me his Rules of the Road: charity (“Give ‘em a break and let ‘em in), and his sometimes “Two-Right-Turns-Are-Better-Than-A-Left” philosophy.  He taught me well, to stay in my lane (while he would have small heart attacks as I drove down the boulevard’s middle lane), and how to “play the lights” to make all the greens.  He helped me pass my license test on the first solo.  “Of course,” he said.  Then I began the drive to the Bank, taking my mom to work (not alone, bringing along my little brother sometimes). 

* * * *

B.  The Korean War. A long, long time ago.  Well, in my memory years, not too too many years, you could have found me on South Marshfield Street, on a warm Saturday morning.  In the alley, I’m there washing and polishing a beautiful 1950 Plymouth convertible.

1950-plymouth-special-deluxe-convertible-2

I had been taking good care of this car.  I was like the Neighborhood Helper: shopper, babysitter, sidewalk-snow-shoveler, car washer, paperboy.  I was eleven and twelve then.  Even a good, successful Boy Scout (Senior Patrol Leader, no less). 

The mother of a young man off to war in Korea had asked for some help with the car, and I had obliged.  Such a beautiful machine!  I worked to make him proud.  We prayed for his return, his mom and I, to be healthy.  And “If he doesn’t come back from Korea,” she said one day, in a moment of deep sorrow and emotion, “the car will be yours.”  Amen!  Oh, how I prayed.  And prayed.  “Please, God…” I tried to pray.  “Dear God . . .” God must have heard my prayers, for he returned–and often gave me long rides for my hard work.  “O God!”

* * * *

“Seventy-five dollars!”  All mine.  My First.  The 1950 Ford.  Fuzzy-brown upholstery (including the headliner), manual shift, in-line 6, 4-door Ugly. 

1950_Ford_Custom_Fordor-maroon-m.jpg

My friend, called “Betsy” (last time I ever named a car), was good transportation, better in the cold.  The engine just quit in the hot weather.  I was learning something about cars and engines when I threw a rod, and had a classmate rebuild the engine.  Then I grew into a ’54 Ford, my Mechanic-Me machine.  A V-8 that got my hands dirty: I did brakes, new spiffy grill, and installed a Holley 4-barrel carb.  Sweet!  I did all that while keeping all my fingers and thumbs intact.holley 4-barrel carburetor

“Will you marry me?”  I asked in my black 4-door hardtop ’57 Oldsmobile.  Oh, that was My Beauty, the Loveofmylife.  Like no other.  My “wooing” machine. 

57olds98.jpg

And after that “Yes,” My Automobile History becomes a catalog of special machines, with special stories: travel, vacation, auto accidents, blizzards, camping, broken bones, emergencies, and other illnesses.  The machines were athletic (Sportage); creepy-crawly (Beetle and “bug”); Arthurian (Avalon); class standing (Squire); and metaphysical-theological (SOUL).

Cars come and go.  Miles and miles.  Bought, sold, traded, leased.  Oil changes, maintenances, contracts, extended warranties, license renewals, sales taxes, repainted, detailed, egged, hailed upon, bird-shat upon, iced and salted.  And sales personnel.  Those sales personnel.  “What will it take to make the deal?  To make you walk out of here happy?”  Some buyers thrive on haggling.  Some would rather have a root canal without Novocain than buy a new car.

However, when all is said and done, the papers are signed twenty times or so, that new car smell: nothing else like it.  Some dream of their dream car for years; others, it’s merely a “thing” to worry about and get washed once in a while when it looks dirty.  I have had my favorites, have drooled on many a steering wheel at auto shows in my “salad days.” 

packard 1955 auto showSmall Demonstration at an Auto Show

It has been a fun run, and yet a stressful one, too, at times, without maps or directions (GPS and Garmin have helped).  I’ve enjoyed the rides, the miles; I have been avoiding trouble, while having fond memoriesofatime, though witnessing some horrible accidents.

Yes, I’ve run out of gas, have broken down, needed towing, gotten lost (but more often than not, asked for directions), had my own accidents–and, yes, had a few traffic tickets/citations of my own, don’tcha know?  My share.

I’m coming up for another license renewal in a couple of years.  I’m not worried: I’ve been at this for a while.  Yes, the bright night lights now do bother my surgeried-cataracts, so I won’t be on the road much after dark (when the monsters come out anyway).

So please watch out for me: I’ll have my blinkers on.  I’m slow (always following the speed limit) in the left fast lane.  I try not to hit squirrels and other rodents.  Oh, did I mention? My driver’s license is stamped SAFE DRIVER.  ORGAN DONOR.  O+

©  JAMES F O’NEIL  2018

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

 

 

 

 

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 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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