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EMOTIONS

BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“To Jim–Thanks for making me gramaticaly correct! Love, A– 8-18-98”

During my writing career, I have done some book reviewing for Choice magazine (a librarian’s magazine); I have also done some editing, for individuals, for friends. These books have become part of my memoriesofatime.

I’ve never had published a real book, one that I signed for followers while I was sitting at a table at Barnes & Noble, or in an easy chair at a small bookshop: “To Mary, Kindest regards”; “For Bernard, who will enjoy my stories as your mother did”; “Audrey, May you laugh and cry as you read.” These words I never inscribed in a novel or book of short stories I wrote.

However, two teaching colleagues and I did author A Bridge to Writing That Works [1995], for ENC 1101, a basic college writing course.

A BRIDGE TO WRITING

Not a best seller–but used as the required text for a few semesters with a captive audience.  (Is it ever ethical for a teacher to use his or her own textbook for a course? I thought about this often. We never received any kind of royalties for our work.)

Enviously I have attended book signings–or have had books signed after readings or presentations: at least one poet and short story author, Raymond Carver; Stephen E. Ambrose, American historian of World War II; Richard A. Clarke, (former) American government official. [I’m a real name dropper here…] James Dickey, American poet and United States Poet Laureate (author of Deliverance).

James_Dickey_(cropped)

James Dickey: Probably one of the most memorable occasions of signings I can relate. I had attended an annual association writing conference, in Pensacola, years back. He was the dinner guest: speaker and reader, in a nice hotel setting. Cocktails before and after dinner. And the readings, “Kudzu,” for one, and talk of his poetry, and the Why of Poetry.

Dickey was always one of my favorite poets, with “Falling” –“A 29-year-old stewardess fell … to her death tonight . . .” a poem of great impression upon me. So, I sat, mesmerized, listening to him, waiting for him to finish, waiting for him to sign his novel Alnilam [1987] which I clutched tightly under the dinner table.

Then I heard him slur a few lines of poetry, then stagger away a bit from the podium. Ooops! Was he drunk? He thanked us, stopping abruptly, and moved to one of the small hotel rooms for book signings. I waited my turn in line. There he kingly sat, writing messages in books, sipping whiskey, comfortable in a lounge chair. Certainly inebriated, over the legal limit, DUI. I did not care. “To Jim, . . .words, words, words . . .” It’s gone. One of the many hundreds I donated to the library when I retired . . .

The next morning I met him in the small Pensacola Airport. We sat and chatted, small talk about teaching, and the Blue Angels (pictures on the walls), and other non-poetry topics. I do remember clearly his asking me whether I wrestled in school; he said he thought so from my physique and stature. [I did wrestle in high school.] He was quite sober when he left for his plane.

[In 1942 he enrolled at Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina and played on the football team as a tailback. After one semester, he left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Dickey served with the U.S. Army Air Forces as a radar operator in a night fighter squadron during the Second World War, and in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Between the wars, he attended Vanderbilt University, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English and philosophy (as well as minoring in astronomy) in 1949. He also received an M.A. in English from Vanderbilt in 1950. –Wikipedia]

Some of my friends have gone on to write, and my name might be mentioned in the acknowledgements. To me, it’s like a signing. I get a book with my name printed. Having helped these friends with their editing, I’ve even received an honorable mention (and pray there are no errors). I received a “Gentleman’s C” in Principles of Economics in college. Ironically, I edited an economics text; and edited a Western novel, and some first novels of action and adventure. That was then.

Now I have been working with an author “Margareth Stewart” [Monica Mastrantonio], publishing her eBook Open: Pierre’s Journey after War–a picaresque novel of one who looks for revenge upon those who killed his family in France during WWII. Her book has taken me on an emotional journey through her character’s eyes.

How much money have I made from my editorial adventures? $elf-Actualization, and a few dollars. And perhaps a copy of the edited book. Most likely that. Pro bono. I do understand the meaning of that phrase. A psychologist paid me a hundred dollars for my work on her book; I received $25 a month for editing a magazine article, for two years. Choice magazine sent a book to be reviewed, with directions, parameters–and deadlines.

Often, I had a deadline to meet a publishing date. Sometimes I was able to meet with an author, to make changes; most times I was on my own, receiving a manuscript text by mail or courier, to edit/revise then return by mail. This was detachment, impersonal.

One memorable time, however, April, a student of mine in a sophomore writing class, came to me after the course was completed, asking whether I would be interested in looking over a manuscript she had. “Of course.”

With all the writing/revisions and editing that I have done, AHOOTERS AND APRILpril Pederson’s Hooters story [1998] has been the most difficult yet most fun. The manuscript needed much editing, but the pictures of the girls needed no edition. April would take care of that. The format of the book was an ultra-unique project for me–cartoonish, manuscript fonts spread throughout, typed text, photographs, index, graphs, charts, menus. And all about Hooters girls and the working the girls do. Often, I found myself chuckling or laughing aloud. A notable task, a messy job, but somebody had to do it.

So, I made it GRAMATICALLY correct . . .

Once I read, “Self-deprecation is the sign of a massive ego structure.” Well, I’m no expert grammarian or copy editor. But I still do wince when I see errors–basic errors (principal/principle)–in a formally published text/book. I ask, “How did that get missed?” Then I continue to read on, mumbling something like “Well, you can’t catch them all.” That’s only human. But, some human got paid to catch that, after some machine proofed it. And so it goes. I have tried, with my favorite grammar books surrounding me–and with my Strunk & White handy–to be that good human who tries to catch them all, that Holden Caulfield Catcher in the Rye editor. I’ve been pretty successful, I must massively-ego say for myself.

catcher in the rye 2014

© JAMES F O’NEIL 2019

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Begin, commence, start, initiate, inaugurate, usher in, mean to take the first step in a course, process, or operation.  [Begin, start, and commence are often interchangeable.]

https://apps.npr.org/commencement/   The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.  “Looking for some new words of wisdom?  Check out our hand-picked selection of commencement addresses, going back to 1774.  Search over 350 speeches by name, school, date, or theme.”

Commencement”: Often referred to as “Graduation,” the Commencement ceremony is just that, a ceremony.  It is an end-of-spring semester celebration for students projected to successfully complete all their graduation requirements by the end of that Spring or Summer semester.  Confirmation of degree completion does not take place until official grades are posted.  “Graduation”: The term in which one has officially and successfully completed all of graduation requirements

I never gave a commencement address.  The closest I came took place in 1982.  The high school principal called me to help with graduation.  “Of course I will!”  I was a senior teacher.  I thought, This is finally it! My Big Show!  I’ve been waiting since 1955!

The only address I gave to the Class of 1982 was my shout at the top of my voice during that commencement rehearsal.  “SENIORS!  QUIET DOWN!!”  (I may have said, shouted, screamed, bellowed out–as I tried to maintain order as they practiced for the upcoming ceremony.)

If I recall, the guest speaker was a newspaper columnist-humorist.  I couldn’t humor those seniors as he did.  But I did have a speech ready for them, parts from a favorite essay I had (still have) from then-Chicago Tribune writer Bob Greene.  He had written a piece–“1964” –for Esquire, highlighting his work on keeping a journal for one year, capturing those memories of the times to look back upon (which he wrote he still did from time to time).  It was about his 17th year, 1964, recorded in one journal.

I wish I had written that.  I wish I had written those words, so that I could give the class a commencement speech: “Don’t Forget What We Did Here for You!  Write It Down!” (Is anybody out there even listening to me?)  But, to paraphrase Thoreau, writing About is not what interests us at the time; it’s the Experiencing that’s important.  (Bob Greene wrote in 1987 Be Good to Your School.  I wish I had written that, too.)

I participated in my first graduation in 1955 in Chicago, from 8th grade.  Then off to high school (graduation), college (graduation), master’s (graduation), and all those other ceremonies I attended robed in regalia while a teacher in an audience or on a stage–or during those seven years as a school administrator, dressed in “civvies,” patrolling halls and parking lots, or getting after noisy guests or silly graduates, or even fixing stage lights or curtains, or…or…providing water for the honored guest speaker.  Even locking up the gymnasium doors Post Commencement.

Nonetheless, I was never a commencement speaker.  I never gave that address:

De Paul University Colors [not me pictured] White: Liberal Arts

“Madame President, Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Honorees, and Faculty; Parents, Friends, and Relatives.  And Graduates of the Class of 20__.  I thank you for asking me to come before you today, on this auspicious occasion….  WOW!  Look at all this color and flowers and the proud people in the audience.”

No, I never spoke for the graduates of West Point, the US Military Academy.

WEST POINT GRADUATION [without tassels]

I really wanted to tell them about the graduate who asked me, “Now what?”  And I would tell them What.  About luck, good fortune, life not being fair.  (They knew that already.)  “Reminder: Hard Work Pays Off!”  Maybe.  I would not be cynical.  I would be uplifting, edifying, funny, pleasant, grandfather-ly.  The wise old…what do I know about…anything?  Watch for it.  Here it comes: “Graduates.  Be flexible.  Be ready.  Be like the Coast Guard: Semper Paratus: ‘Always Ready, Always Prepared.’”  For?  The low ball, high pitch, fast ball, Hail-Mary Pass, missed putt, end run, unexpected, from out of nowhere.

Graduations, commencement times, are sad-happy times for me.  Since that 1955 time, as participant and observer, I’ve marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” (still brings chills, Mr. Elgar–and memoriesofatime).  I’ve listened to beautiful Palestrina choral pieces.  I’ve listened to names being called (in the thousands, I’m sure), speeches given (both enlightening and terribly boring), recognitions being awarded (I cannot recall ever being specialed-out for anything); trophies, certificates, diplomas, pins, books,  medals, and money-scholarships being handed out.

But after all is done, and rooms and halls are emptied, the work begins: the graduates must “commence” their lives now that a tassel has been moved.  Some will fail; we all have failures.  Great success will come to a few, as it should.  “That’s the way it is!” I would have told them.

And so , I may have never given a commencement address, may never have had to worry about preparing a speech, or needing a glass of water, or may never have had my tassel swing in front of my eyes–back and forth, back and forth–as I spoke.  (How annoying!)

Yet, overall, I’ve had my share of positions before the public, before audiences, and have even given a church sermon!  Yet there lingers within me a tiny bit of “missing-ness”: Never having been able to say, “And so, Graduates, in conclusion, therefore, good luck to you all!  Now go and commence!”

UNION HALL LA TROBE UNIVERSITY [before commencement exercises]

© James F. O’Neil 2019

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose // By any other name would smell as sweet.”  Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.1-2.

Back when, as I recall, I was always a lover of beautiful actresses and movie stars, those “starlets” of the ‘50s.  I’m not sure that this hasn’t changed much now, as I still have tendencies toward liking beauty, and appreciating youth, and fine acting.  Then, as now, I have had my favorites, but I’ve never had large pictures of posters of, say, Farrah Fawcett affixed to the ceiling above my top bunk, or of Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe pasted on the wall above my desk.  [Farrah Leni Fawcett 1947– 2009), American actress, model, and artist.  A four-time Emmy Award nominee and six-time Golden Globe Award nominee,Farrah-Fawcett-1 Fawcett rose to international fame when she posed for her iconic red swimsuit poster–which became the best selling pin-up poster in history.  She starred in the first season of the television series Charlie’s Angels (1976–1977).  She was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, dying three years later at age 62.–Wikipedia.] 

I did, however, have pictures inside my high school locker door, probably as a freshman or a sophomore (really? junior? senior?)  Two of my favorites were Mitzi Gaynor and Kim Novak.

About Kim Novak (Marilyn Pauline Novak), the nice Bohemian girl from Chicago, my hometown:  I saw as many of her movies as I could–and still consider Picnic (1955) and Man with the Golden Arm (1955) two of (my) the best films she made.

picnic_poster

She played dual-roled Madeline/Judy in the thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958), with actor Jimmy Stewart (considered a classic, but not one of my all-time favorite movies).

bell book and candle life mag She was absolutely beauty and sexy as the witch in Bell, Book, and Candle (1958) (again with Jimmy Stewart).  Definitely one of my favorite “I’ve-never-been-infatuated-by-Kim-Novak-movies.”                                 

With her blond-white hair and her classy-sassy shape, she was playing the Temptress Jeanne Eagles (1957) with hajeanne eagles kim novakndsome heartthrob Jeff Chandler.

How was I so smitten?  So many memoriesofatime. . .

Beyond the movies and the acting, though, the name “Kim” has no special hold on me (or does it?).  Nothing was ever magical in the name, a girl’s name, short for Kimberly; or the title of a Kipling novel (Kim); or a very popular Korean name–like “Lee.” 

“Mitzi,” however, has a different life, far beyond a school locker or a movie screen for me.  As that young movie lover, I first saw Francesca Marlene de Czanyi von Gerber–another Chicago girl (b. 1931)–in South Pacific (1958) on the big screen of a downtown theater.mitzi gaynor wholesome

She danced (had legs!).  She sang.  Posed risqué (a poster girl).  Was sweet, charming, mostly demure.  And, could act, too.  In my years of objectifying females (Y.O.O.F!), she was more than decorations inside my locker. 

I bought movie magazines, scissoring out her pictures, hormoning after her (35-22-35) every time I opened my locker during the school day.  mitzi gaynor legsBut no pictures of her hidden around at home, in drawers, under mattresses, in secret places throughout the house.

I carried her with me, however, made her part of my life, when I called out “What’s in a name?”  I named my first car, bought and paid for, cash deal–$75.00–a 1950 4-door Ford:  My “Mitzi.”  “Mitzi.”  (There would be other cars, but you never forget your first.)  So, what’s in a name?  Why name a car?  Personalization, friendship.  Why is a car female?  (Always?)  A “she”?  “She runs well.”  “She is a real go-er.”  “She gets good gas mileage.”

1950_Ford_Custom_Fordor-maroon-m

“Mitzi” and I had a good relationship for a while, from the first tank of gas in the spring of 1959 to the summer of 1960.  There were some problems with her, however, early on.  First, the gas gauge did not work well, was weak in calibration.  I ran out of gas in Golf, Illinois, coming home, with my sister and my mother in the back seat, after I had just bought her.  The good news was that I had an empty gasoline can and was near a gas station.  So I prepared to exit my stalled vehicle that was off the road.  The bad news is?  . . . a police car, pulling up behind.

The officer of the law approached my vehicle.  The usual “license and registration” while shining a light throughout the car.  My sister, in her best non-quiet voice (she was out of high school then), blurted out, “Does he think we stole something?”  Gulp (to utter the least)!  He asked about my license plates:  “Mine.  They came with the car.”  Wrong answer:  They were not registered to me, the owner.  So, “I’m giving you a citation for driving with fictitious license plates.”  Which he did.  Then he drove me to the gas station to fill up the can–and brought me back to my mother and sister, still laughing at the whole situation.  (I had to pay the fine; I mailed it.  And avoided all roads that led to Golf, Illinois, as much as possible, in later life.)

village of golf.jpg

Later that year, in the Illinois winter, I was driving Mitzi, along with two high school classmates.  Winter-early-evening dark, as we came home from a school activity.  Bam!  Bam!  The engine stopped, and we coasted along a two-lane highway north of Chicago.  (No car-phones back then.)

No luck starting the engine, that only knock-knocked-knocked.  Fortunately, a friend came by and got us a tow-truck to another friend’s house nearby.  So Mitzi sat most of the winter in a cold auto shop, being repaired

rod and pistonpiston and rod

for a “thrown rod.”  By spring, she was good-to-go, but was never the same.

It was rough, the repairs; she endured some serious trauma, and would never really recover.  I visited her as much as I could during that winter.  By summer, I knew her days with me were short.  She became over heated, under pressure, then simply shut down.  At times, I had to wait on a hot summer day for the Temperamental One to relax, start, and run smooth.

I sold Mitzi that following summer.  She was replaced.  I was so fickle, so non-comitted to her as she grew older.  I was looking for a more committed relationship.  When she left–or rather, when I left her, cast her off like some used, used-up, Hollywood starlet on a used car backlot–Mitzi was traded for a sleek 1954 Ford.

1954 ford

But never could this one replace or duplicate the first-time experiences I had with “My Mitzi.”

“Let’s see: First, she needs a new paint job, then a new 4-barrel carb, a new custom grill.  Then I want to install . . .”  “She’s a go-er with her V-8, and . . .”  “What shall I name her?”

© JAMES F O’NEIL  21 April 2019 (Happy Birthday, 1941!)

Kim_Novak_-_autographed

“Hey, Hon, can I put this picture over my desk?”

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I think I have serious latent Catholic guilt issues.”  –Grimes (Brainyquote)

A grey rainy late winter day in Chicago.  My dad and my sister are in the car (our ’37 Plymouth) waiting to pick me up from school.  I was in 2nd grade at St. Jarlath’s, near our apartment on Van Buren and Ashland (long gone now, concretized by the Congress Street-Eisenhower Expressway). My dad worked nights but came to get us home for lunch in bad weather.  What was the delay?  I’m inside the classroom, sitting under the teacher’s desk.  What was happening then in 1949?

Born in April 1941, I have few memories before 1944, though some child development specialists have told they could unlock the drawers holding those before-memories.  How many “major” memories do we get to keep?  Memories are the captured ones, say, the ones not ever forgotten, those “memorable” thoughts and stories that unfolded becoming our lives.  Choosing which ones to share, or to organize those recalled from time to time can be a daunting task, albeit a rewarding one (cathartic one?).  I am certain there were, in my first three or four years, those first baths, and birthdays–complete with cake and frosting in hair, or on the high chairs, and thrown about the room.  Perhaps early birthdays with games and balloons and smashed cake really do form the basis for celebrations of all kinds that come at later dates.

But the memories of our first three or four years?  I delight in all that is forgotten: the pain of early ear infections, of being one gigantic chicken pox when all the pox-dots are connected.  Scarlet fever, insect bites and stings, broken favorite toys, cough medicines, penicillin injections, Vicks-covered wrapped-chests, and more awful things that should remain in those memory drawers, not needing to be unhoused.  For what real purpose?

We hardly also remember all the good times, for they were not so traumatizing on the psyche.  Yet I would not mind the good memories that could be released: memories of first beach day (not a sun burn, of course, but the eternal sand castle building or perfect water temperature), train trips or miniature-train rides in parks or at carnivals, parties and Christmases and Easter egg hunts, and A&W root beer floats, and .  .  .  Release might involve the “good” with the “bad.”  (Personally, Dr. Jung Freud, I like it the way it is–as if I have slept through most of those first three or four years.)

Therefore, my life story begins in 1944: I was three.  That is a good start for my history.  My baby pictures tell enough of that, especially those with my favorite cousin Marilyn on one side and my sister, Janice, on the other side of me–all with our little knees showing.  Three joined at the hip, as it were, on Grandpa Schuma’s front porch.  THAT is the memory, the picture I want to keep alive forever as representative of my early-early life, the “good life.”

jimmy on GRANDMA'S PORCHTHE THREE OF US ON THE PORCH AT 5644 SOUTH SEELEY 1945

It is my school life, though, that has always been a nine-month chunk of my life cycle.  So much of my time, my daily life, was spent in school or around school or going to/coming from.  The summers, then, were sacrosanct with a life of their own.  That is why we probably use the expression so often “School Life,” from pre-K, or even nursery school, to whatever graduation point or final degree.

Overall, I grade my “school life” in the range of “good” to “above average”: C to B+, from first grade through my advanced degree programs.  In “My Life Story: Early Life in School: 1947-1949,” there exist a few milestones, like Baltimore Catechism (and hating–forever–memorization); First Holy Communion (and that dark blue wool suit seen in pictures);

jimmy's First Communion May 9, 1948

JIMMY’S O’NEIL’S FIRST COMMUNION MAY 9, 1948

a Confessional, for the first time.  The Milk Break: I loved milk breaks–any grade.  (And I wish I had gone to kindergarten to have had a blankie and a nap.  My vivid memories center upon “chocolate”: for morning milk [in glass bottles in metal cases, ordered a week ahead].)  Nuns-as-Teachers (I cannot remember their names or their faces, but I do have a picture of 1st and 2nd grade blackness.)  And, finally, the memory that I cannot ever eradicate: Being Late:  A rainy day when my dad was able to pick us up for lunch.  I was late.

Let me back up now.  Earlier that morning, I got myself into trouble.  I was talking to the kid across the aisle from me, no doubt my friend Peter Mendoza.  Now what do 2nd graders have to talk about in 2nd grade in mid-morning after Milk Break?  What is so important that is worth violating the Silence Rule?  (We had no Smart phones to keep us occupied.)

I cannot recall nor remember.  “I have no recollection of the event or the conversation,” politicians say.

Whatever it was certainly drew the attention of Sister Mary of the Rosary Beads, our nun-teacher.  My nun-teacher called a name-not-mine.  I thought I heard her call my name, “Jimmy O’Neil come to the front of the room.”  (Caught!  I was probably talking.)  Guiltily I stood up and accepted the punishment.  So I walked to the Time-Out spot near the blackboard.  A classmate was already there.  “Did she call your name?”  Soon I began talking to one rightfully punished standing by the blackboard.  “Jimmy O’Neil.”  This time I was called out for talking by the One-in-Black-Who-Saw-and-Heard-Everything, and told to go sit under her desk–a Final Punishing Place!  My memory of pulling away the teacher chair and crawling under the drawer and skootching next to the “modesty panel” still hurts.  And how was I going to explain my situation to my dad if I did not come out for lunch on time?  Fear of the Lord.  Guilt.  Crime and Punishment.

I was wearing a flannel plaid shirt.  Brown and white.  I happened to be wearing one of my collectibles: a metal pin-back pin found in cereal boxes, pins of railroads.

Vintage-1980s-Prr-Pennsylvania-Railroad-Train-Logo-Pinback

PENNSYLVANIA RR PIN-BACK PIN

I took off my Pennsylvania RR pin and played with it while listening to nun and students.  I began to formulate my excuse: The Lie.  I would lie and say I hurt myself and had to stay after for help.  I managed, at eight years old, in 1949, to plot a lie-story that would save me from home punishment for the double-punishment of the 2nd grade classroom.  I would show my injury on my hand.  I had to create an injury story.

I picked at the wrist of my left hand with the pinpoint of the Pennsy RR button.  I picked and picked until I began to bleed and open a wound.  I felt no pain.  No guilt either.  Time passed quickly.  The class continued its lessons without me as I picked and poked and bled.  Then the bell.  I heard all leave the room; the door shut.  All left except Jimmy O’Neil, forgotten under the desk.  Everyone forgot me.  I crawled out, with my bloody sore already scabbing over.  It was much smaller than a dime.  I went to the cloakroom for my coat.

Dad and my sister were waiting in the car, in the rain.  As I ran to the car, I let my courage come unstuck from somewhere.  “I’m sorry I’m late.  I was kept after for talking.”  (No mention of being forgotten by everyone, including my teacher.)  No more was said.  Moreover, no one asked about the sore on my hand; I didn’t tell any more than was required.

That’s it.  My brain, learning, and memory cells increased proportionately after 1949.  I know I learned the basics of how to count, to use the alphabet, and how to tie my shoes–even at school.  And, I’ve forgotten so much–trivia, irrelevancies, factoids.

Yet I cannot ever eradicate this one 2nd grade anecdote.  I want to keep it, not tug it around to depress me, but not throw it away either.  It’s a story by a little boy about a little boy.  Maybe it has some Catholic guilt within, maybe some fear of disappointing a dad (or worry about some punishment), or maybe it has a small step in my growing up.  For sure, though, I made certain I never ever had to sit under a teacher’s desk again!

. . .

“Every person’s autobiography is both unique and usual, the story of an individual life and of all mankind.  We are shaped by an inescapable human condition which dictates certain events and themes that will figure prominently in every life story.”  –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey (1989)

©  James F. O’Neil  2018

 

 

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