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EMOTIONS

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

HRH Elizabeth Queen of England will “turn” 95 years old on 21 April, this year–coming up soon.

April 21, 2021

Mr. James Francis O’Neil, BA, MA, will “turn” 80 years old–still fifteen years younger than the Queen.

BABY JIMMY

. . .

“A man is sane morally at 30, rich mentally at 40, wise spiritually at 50–or never.”–Sir William Osler (1849–1919) [Quoted in Forbes Magazine, June 1961]

. . .

Is any one birthday more important than another?  Is any one particular birthday more significant than another? 

Certain days of our lives, calendar days, occurring but annually, come to be celebrated (or not celebrated, or tried-to-be-forgotten): our BIRTH-DAY, anniversary of our birth.  For some, it is important not to forget, not to be forgotten, as in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, Emily Webb’s twelfth birthday.  Was that birthday important or significant?  (Is there a significant difference?)

In a lifetime, certain calendar birth anniversary days (beginning with #1, the 1st, the First) are regarded more highly and celebrated–by others and by the “celebrant.”

21–I could not wait until I turned twenty-one, to have my first legal alcoholic–spirits drink.  Oh, I had drinks years before that special “21st,” but not legally in Illinois.  So, there I was, in the club car of the Illinois Central RR, April 1962, returning to classes after the Spring-Easter Break.

My Uncle Bill had taught me the best about cigars (“That’s what I do: I smoke cigars.  And I know things.”)  and was teaching me about single malts and sour mash.  He made good Manhattans.  “I’ll have a Manhattan,” I told the railroad waiter, nonchalantly.  (I was not about to venture “a Rob Roy, please.”)  “I need some proof of age,” he retorted.

Oh, I had that birthday gift, how important that April date was on my driver’s license (gotten on another important birthday in April, #16)) 1962 minus 1941 equals: BINGO: 21!)  What power!  What meaning!  What significance!   A date to be remembered–for life!

65–I skipped over a few years to here.  I don’t need to retell about “The Big 4-0” or “Half Century” (really?).  I did have a wonderful 60th Surprise Party that genuinely surprised me.  Family and friends, great foods, and a well-decorated cake, in the shape and design of an airport runway.  (I am an avid aircraft-lover.)  That birthday had special significance for me.  It was special.  (Hallmark says 60 is diamonds; I received none.)

So, the years 1–ONE–FIRST to 65 brought me surprise birth anniversaries, parties, gifts, and memoriesofatime, but not, of course, gifts in the Hallmark “official” list for anniversaries.  (Those are mostly for weddings, especially 5/wood; 10/tin/; 15/crystal/; 19/jade; and 25/silver/, 50/gold/, and 75/diamond.)

Then came the BIGGIE, the real BIGGIE: 65 . . . and important significant MEDICARE.  What can I say now?  Incredible!  I cannot believe I have partaken of that great social program . . . for fifteen (15) years!

Where has the time gone?  Who knows where the time has gone?

* * *

Her: “Thank you, Mr. O’Neil, Professor O’Neil, for your time–which is so important to you–and your willingness to talk about your 80th Birthday.  How do you feel as you approach that 80th April Day?”

Me: “Growing old isn’t easy.  But I do not regret growing older.  ‘It’s a privilege denied to many.’”

Her: “Have you learned anything special in the recent past, say five or ten years, which prepared you for this time?” 

Me: “Lifting.  I used to lift, unload box cars when I was twenty-two.  It is harder now to lift a 20-pound bag of mulch.  I am aware of not being able to go fast, but I have clocks in every room, I am so aware of time.  More time needed to plan for activities.  And, yes, being forgetful: Being in a room and wondering, ‘Why did I come into here?  Oh, yes.’”

Her: “What would you say is your greatest achievement in your eighty years?”

Me: “Sobriety: To accept the things I cannot change; to have the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.  Powerful stuff here.”

Her: “Aside from all your friends and family, is there someone special you would like to invite to your birthday party?”

Me: “The author and essayist Joseph Epstein whom I have admired for a long time, for his essays of wit, thought, wisdom, and history.”  (“If I am allowed another special guest, I would like Henry David Thoreau, too.  And if there is one more extra chair, I would like to hear the barbaric yawp of Walt Whitman.”)

Her: “At present, what is your greatest desire?”

Me: “My 81st birthday, at home, with my family, virus free.”

Her: “You were in education for nearly fifty years.  You taught writing and literature, and were a school administrator for seven years, too.  Do you have any special words of wisdom that you can share that have had an influence upon your career?”

Me: “‘To err is human; to forgive, divine’ is one of my favorites.  ‘The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose’ is one I learned early on, from Shakespeare.  And it still has meaning for me.  ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’ from Milton.  Profound.  ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ One more?  ‘Know thyself.’ Something I learned long ago in Greek class.”

Her: “I know you have done much reading in all those years, surely from Aristotle and Plato, to Proust, and Kurt Vonnegut.  But you must have some ‘favorite’ or special author or book that you return to for guidance or inspiration.”

Me: “I don’t have a special author whom I can often quote from, like lines or words from Shakespeare, or the poetry of Milton, or Emily Dickinson.  But if I were on that imaginary deserted island with only one book to read over and over, I would have to choose my black leather-bound Book of Common PrayerAll I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten would be a great choice–or Paradise Lost.  But I’ll keep the prayer book. 

Her: “Of the 80 years, what would you say was the ‘Best Year of Your Life’?”

Me: “My 80th, for sure, considering all my high school classmates who have passed on.  But that is a difficult question to answer.  Year of Courtship, marriage, having children, career, graduate school, travel to Europe; moving years: Chicago, to Minnesota to Florida.  There cannot be a ‘Best Year of My Life.’”

Her: “Well, then, is there a ‘worst’?”

Me: “This is not so difficult to answer, for it always comes up the same: 10th grade!  No matter whenever I think about it.  My surgeries: appendix and tonsils.  Nearly flunking geometry: A=B, B=C, ergo A=C. Theorems and proofs.  Pythagoras and c2 = a2 + b2.  How tough that was!  In addition to learning Latin in 9th grade, I began the study of Greek in 10th grade! α β γ δ ε ζ η κ π φ ω and more–I forget the exact order.”

Her: “Professor, you have allowed me a unique opportunity to hear about you and some of your history.  Thank you again.  Would you like to add anything else now?”

Me: “Thank you, and you’re welcome.  Yes, a few more words, if I might read from Walt Whitman Sands at Seventy, “After the Supper and Talk”: ‘“. . . after the day is done . . . Good-bye . . . O so loth to depart!  Garrulous to the very last.’”

Walt Whitman, circa 1887

© JAMES F O’NEIL  2021

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?”

 

 

 

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