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EVENTS

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

 “. . . I’ve been to the mountaintop.”  “I saw beautiful spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!”

July is nearly over.  Some summer vacations have finished, some already begun; all the same, some are still being planned.  “Beginning in October 2018, there will be direct flights from TPA/TIA [Tampa] to Gatwick [London].”  “I cannot wait!  I’d go in a heartbeat.” “But there is so much to see and do yet in the United States, why travel overseas?”  “There is also direct flight service by Icelandic Air to Reykjavik.”  Someday, maybe.  “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” says Rick Blaine in Casablanca.  Something like that, I say, “of all the Oh!-The-Places-You’ll-Go places I have been, including Hurley, Wisconsin (pop.  1540); Fargo; Raymond, Mississippi (pop. 1933); Bethesda, Ohio (pop. 1256, more with fracking crews); Las Vegas; Yeehaw Junction, Florida (pop. 240), I’ve been to more than others have; others, for certain, out-place me.  However, I’m not in any way in contention for a carbon-platinum Frequent Flyer Rewards Card in my wallet.

Getting from one place to another, nevertheless, has always distressed me, sometimes when I was younger, to the point of actually fainting before a trip, in anticipation.  (I do recall a near-meltdown not too many years ago while frustrating with packing a very large suitcase that would not hold everything, including my large bicycle seat.)  I hate packing, hate to pack.  I’d like to go, to arrive with my toothbrush and shaving kit–and with my medications, of course.  No luggage.  No carry on.  Maybe a book (paperback Proust, probably–or congested Kindle).  Then check in, relax, afterwards to see whatever I came to see.

What have I seen, from the top (35,000 feet: clouds and oceans, lakes and mountains) to the under (Eurostar–London to Paris–under the English Channel; the Metro; the “L” under the Chicago River)?  I have fashioned a memory-filled checklist, culled from journals, from Day-Minders and ticket stubs, in no particular order, priority, or chronology.  I am sure that as I write this (and later edit and revise) I’ll remember something, like “I forgot Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, in West Virginia, the center of the Hare Krishna movement,” or “Remember that really great Cajun restaurant where we ate crayfish down by the bayou in Savannah?” “Yeah!  That’s when they were filming Forrest Gump outside our hotel.” 

“How old was I when . . . ?”  “Were the kids with us when we drove to . . . ?”  Our first trip (in 1977) to Florida, to Disney World, to Cape Kennedy, our first “grits.” “What are they?”  [NOT, “Girls Raised In The South.”]  “Oh, that’s Cream of Wheat.  Butter, please, and maple syrup, too.  Thanks.”  So, “Once upon a time,” [read aloud]: “I have, we did, we have . . . traveled to, stayed at, climbed, flown to, rode, ate at, moved to, drove, watched, swam in, driven along, peeked over, touched, walked the, accelerated in, viewed, sped upon, stopped, adored in, looked upon, rode in, stood beneath, rushed, stepped over, rested, visited, stood before, paused, leaned over, slept in, toured, crossed, ran alongside, wandered, cruised, stalled, transfixed . . . .  [Pick a verb.  Find a place, setting, activity (surely your mind’s eye already sees, the heart already races, the memory is activated).  Locate a picture or photo to accompany a special memoryofatime.  Open up a box of Nostalgias to munch on.  Have fond, sweet (though maybe icy, rainy, cold, slippery?) memories.]

For one, Stonehenge: BIG ROCKS, and Salisbury Plain, and the Romans in Bath.  On Chesil Beach (with Ian McEwan, no doubt, having walked upon the same stones), putting a few in my pocket for my travel collection.  And stony Hastings Shore, the English Channel lapping upon the feet of the bathers in the cold water, my thinking about Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle and World War II.  One warm July Sunday, while on a noontime walk, seeing Stephen Hawking on a Cambridge street.  Three summers in Cambridge: university library, along the Cam River, bicycle riding to Grantchester, studying and tutoring, Selwyn College, trains to London for excursions, Globe Theater, writing, awe-ing, and . . . . 

I have also looked out upon the Pisgah National Forest, from the parapets of one of America’s finest castles, the Biltmore House.  The view was holy, overwhelming, awe-some in the glory of the Creator. 

However, most breath taking for me in life was standing alone before my trek up the dunes in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado. 

SAND DUNES BY JEFF COTNERCOM

GREAT SAND DUNES PHOTO by JEFF COTNER

There I stood, amazed, a people-ant to those looking down upon me; yet from my perspective, those specs beyond, above, showed how insignificant I was, am, in relation to the forces and effects of time and Nature.  So I climbed and climbed.  No steps, like at Ephesus.  Steps.  To the Parthenon.  Huffing and puffing, like climbing those steps inside the Washington Monument many (younger) years before, or those leading to Monks Mound, “at one hundred feet, it is the largest prehistoric earthen mound in North America”: Cahokia, near St. Louis.

MONKS MOUND WIKIPEDIA

MONK’S MOUND from WIKIPEDIA

Reaching the “top” of the Dunes, I became engaged with a sense of cosmic realism.  I was a part of it all.  I looked out upon . . . the waters surrounding Mont Saint-Michel in France;   mont saint-michelor came upon the Pacific Ocean for my first glimpse at Seaside, Oregon, with its Lewis and Clark Expedition history.  On Goat Island, visiting a few times the crashing and splashing and misting and forcings of the Niagara River at Niagara Falls. 

Sue and Jim at Goat Island, Niagara Falls, NY

SUE AND JIM (YOUNGER THAN NOW)

Was I able to “slip the surly bonds of earth . . . And while, with silent lifting mind I’ve trod // The high untrespassed sanctity of space, / Put out my hand, and touch[ed] the face of God. . . ?”  

interior-hagia-sophia HAGIA SOPHIA

With God-places, I’ve stood within and beneath the great domed Hagia Sophia in Istanbul-Constantinople, have been shoeless in the Blue Mosque; prayed in Chartres Cathedral; knelt in Ely Cathedral, Westminster Abby, Notre Dame in Paris; walked the aisles of St Louis (Missouri) Cathedral and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. 

I have wandered in wonderment, showered so often with kaleidoscopic colors of light from the stained glass magnificently built by crafters in so many “houses” of worship, like Saint-Severin in Paris.  Glass in Saint- Severin by Jean René Bazaine 1970.JPG

Outside, I looked UP: “Up we go!” “Into the next car, please.”: The London Eye.  “Look up!”: The Eiffel Tower: “No, I cannot go.  You ride up if you want.  But I will walk with you on top of the Arc de triomphe.”  “Sorry.  The Arch is closed today.  High winds and a storm coming” the St. Louis trip frustrating, though we saw enough of the Ole Man [Mississippi] River.  In 1966, I looked up upon the Empire State Building.  That was An Affair to Remember, my first visit to New York City.  (I didn’t ride up.)  But I was never Sleepless in Seattle, looking up at Mount Rainier, a glacier, and viewing Mount St Helens (not a far trip away).

So I’ve come to the end of the “Rick Steves Road Trip for Jimmy O’Neil”: vacations, trips, travels, excursions, journeys, stays, visitations, visits, pilgrimages–all part of a lifetime of activity, though a small part.  But when I consider how much time is spent in planning and preparing, from initial thought or utterance–“Where should we go this winter?”  “Where do you want to go for our anniversary?”  “Should we go to . . . again?”  “How much time do we have to . . . ?”–to the final credit card payment for the last meal of the trip or something bought in the duty-free shop, a vacation takes a long time in a person’s life.  No wonder we are so worn out after we return home, to rest.

Sometimes, though, the vacation place is “restful” itself, the reason for the trip itself: no touring, no running around, no shopping, just being there.  A beach.  A mountain cabin.  A quiet Walden Pond.  A cave.  A cave?  A cave on Paros Island, in the Cyclades Islands.  In May 2005, five of us adults took a memorable trip to our Greek cave.

A non-stop overnight flight from New York to Athens.  (I hate packing.)  A long bus ride from the airport (schlepping luggage) to the Port of Piraeus in Athens.  Then a ferry boat ride–BIG ferry boat, with people, trucks, cars–in the late afternoon with a dark night arrival (nearly missing our stop), finding a rental car (four sardines, holding luggage, speeding along curves and hills on dark roads, black-black outside), arriving at a car park in an asleep town, almost midnight.  “We have to do what?  Carry our suitcases up and around the hill to get to our place?”  Cursing all the way, punctuated with laughter about how we found this place.  Dogs barking at us, disturbing them, cats hissing as we snaked around homes, through alleyways, on walkways, tripping occasionally on a front stoop in the dimly lit “neighborhood.”  Huffed and puffed (of course) to the top, at the end-stop of the street.

PAROS CAVE-HOME.JPG

VACATION CAVE-HOME, PAROS ISLAND, GREECE in the HEART of the AEGEAN SEA

“What is this, a real cave?” as we entered through the front doors.  A cave-home, a home carved out from the promontory overlooking the town (LEFKES/LEFKOS).  Modernized: plumbing, furniture, fireplaces, electronics, electricity, rooms.  “AWESOME!”  I said, as I put my suitcase . . . no closets.  Platform queen-sized bed with solar tube skylight through the mountain above us, allowing light in, allowing us to view stars all night.  Two baths and showers.  Lemon trees outside, with a spectacular view of the entire town, whitewashed-in-Greek.  A 20-minute walk up or down to the chemist or bakery with chocolate croissants daily, or fresh baguettes.  Or the market.  Or to the rental car.  (We did not remain cave dwellers for the week: we explored the island, did visit another island and old Portuguese fort, sat on a beach, ate in different restaurants, visited a famous Roman quarry, among other activities–and even made fresh lemonade daily.)

What a unique opportunity that I will never forget, what an experience like no other in my entire vacation-ing life.  “Where ya’ been?” “I have been to the mountain.”  I have.  At the very top, UP, far beyond our cave, topped with giant (dormant) wind turbines.  I have been to the top of the mountain.  And it was good.

LEFKES on PAROS 2005.JPG

LEFKES on PAROS ISLAND, GREECE, 2005

 …

ADDENDUM

The Summer of 2018 will be memorable for no vacation.  Foot surgery instead forced an in-bed holiday.  Four to six weeks of no weight bearing, occasional icing, and some few hydrocodone tablets kept down travel costs considerably.  However, the electric bill may have spiked due to an overuse of audio and video, like Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. 

© JAMES F. O’NEIL 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

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BY:  JAMES F. O’NEIL

NAIVENESS = “an artless anglicization created by simple, unaffected people deficient in worldly wisdom and informed judgment.”  –Bryan A. Garner Garner’s Modern English Usage.  New York, Oxford 2016.

The title here is a throwback.  A sudden reminder of the past–for some.  Someone or something that seems to belong to an earlier period of time or that makes you think of an earlier period.  Now I have done it: I have made it come alive!  Memoriesofatime.  More specifically, it usually means something that is nostalgic, with memories, something back in the day, something old school, say Animal House?  1978?  animal house“A lot of his work is a throwback…”  “Nostalgia does not have eternal life.  I use nostalgia when I’m in a bad situation, when I’m feeling stressed, or when the world is an ugly place to read about or to watch on television.  I use nostalgia to escape.  But my own kids are not nostalgic in the same way.  They’re nostalgic if something is trending.  And then they’ll go back and look it up and learn about something that happened a long time ago.”  –Steven Spielberg.  “A New Reality Reveals Something Classic” by Stephanie Zacharek.  TIME, 9 Apr. 2018.  48.

How naive was I?  Was I a naive naif?  [naive adj. naif noun.]

Once upon a time, years before I became a high school classroom teacher, I was doing a course research paper on metaphysical poets and the Bible’s Song of Songs, the Song of Solomon.  There I sat, often for hours in the library, without Google or the Internet “back in the day,” my self surrounded by stacks and piles of books, reading, copying, digesting, writing, taking notes, formulating, explaining, preparing a paper.

library research bright-student-reading-in-cozy-college-library.pngStudent doing research

I learned that Song of Songs has a long history of interpretation.  The Song of Songs can be a challenging read, like the true poems of the metaphysical poets whose words are read on different levels of understanding: meta-physical.  How does one explain “Batter my heart, three-personed God . . . / . . . ravish me”?  (John Donne)  Imagine being ravished by God?  Researchers know how “one thing leads to another,” one topic moves, suggests, or links to another.  Soon, a researcher might be “off topic,” but is enjoying the readings that have now melded into a new area, causing research-distress: “Should I pursue this?  This is really interesting.”  Soon time becomes an enemy as it presses-presses-presses to get something done before deadlines are missed.

“Cavalier” poets and metaphysical poetry and erotic Bible verses and commentators, who, “seeking the literal sense of the book of Solomon, have explained it as a celebration of conjugal love in marriage,” then little by little began to touch on the topic of censorship.  I was writing about a love song in the Old Testament, simple enough, so I thought. 

song of songs

Occasionally, though, an article would refer to the erotic nature of the work–and how it was censored, forbidden, removed from a certain edition, or “emended.”  On the other hand, Jewish and Christian scholars often took an allegorical view of this book of the Old Testament as a mosaic of love poems that has a loosely defined plot.  (The “literal” subject is about love and sexual longing between a man and a woman–and it has little [or nothing] to say about the relationship of God and man.)

Nevertheless, I was slowly being drawn into the censorship issue, about which I knew so little, was so “naive.”  I wanted more time; I needed more time for this “sidebar.”  NO!  I completed my poetry paper (B+/A-), and thought no more of

censorshipCENSORSHIP

“And as you prepare your lesson plans and syllabus, please do remember not to say anything about or even mention the book The Catcher in the Rye,” my department chairman cautioned me during our first meeting: new teacher (naive naif), teacher-boss.  So I did not, and Holden Caulfield stayed under wraps–until I had to read the book for a graduate course later that fall in contemporary American literature.

catcher in the rye 2014

For the three years I taught at the all boys-to-men Catholic high school, I followed and selected from the prescribed readings lists, including Life on the Mississippi, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Red Badge of Courage, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I/we did all right with the reading lists while I taught grades 9, 11, and 12.  No troubles.  The troubles came from elsewhere: the radio, school dances, record stores, The Top Ten.

“What was that dirty song we’ve been hearing about?” parents asked.  “Did you play that song at the school dance?”  “Louie Louie, me gotta go. . . .”  “Who are the Kingsmen?”  So there was going to be a Parents’ Night in the school cafeteria to discuss the song and the music, assuring them that the lyrics were dirty and should be banned (CENSORED) and re-assuring those parents that the music would never be heard in the school.  “Louie Louie, me gotta go / Me see Jamaica moon above / It won’t be long, me see my love. . . .”   

Whatever made this song the victim of censorship was a cultural phenomenon.  It is a mystery.  The song has remained a cult favorite since it was top-o-the charts from the ending months of 1963 through 1964, then continuing with its revivalism in the rebelliousness of Animal House, with John Belushi and Company, in 1978.

belushi toga party

“Louie Louie, me gotta go / Three nights and days me sail the sea / Me think of girl constantly. . . .”  “Slow down the record!  Hear the dirty lyrics, the dirty words!” “Iiiii taaaaakke herrr innn myyyy aaaarrrrrrmmmms aaannnnnnddd thhhhheeeeeennnn / Meeeeee teeeellllll heeerrrr I’llllllll nnneeeeeevvvvvveveeeevvvrvrrvvrr llleeeeeaaaaaavvvvveeee aaaaaaggggggaaaaiiiiinnnnn / Looooooeeeeeeee Looooooeeeeeeyyyyyy, meeeeeeee goooooottttttaaaaaaa ggggooooooo.”

The nearly unintelligible (and innocuous) lyrics were widely misinterpreted as obscene, and the song was banned by radio stations (and in Catholic schools).  The FBI concluded, after thorough investigations, dragging on through 1965, with each laboratory examination of the record deemed inconclusive.  “Oh, oh, me gotta go.” So the record couldn’t be declared obscene.  Nearly four hundred versions of the song have been recorded since then, many easily found in sing-along versions on You Tube!

Its original author, Richard Berry, who wrote his song’s lyrics in a fake Jamaican vernacular, attempting to benefit from the American calypso craze of the mid-fifties, could hardly have predicted the longevity of “Louie Louie” as a rock-and-roll anthem.  “In 1955 I was performing in California with a Latin band.  While in the dressing room, I heard instrumentals.  I took a piece of toilet paper and wrote the lyrics on the toilet paper. . . .  The singer is a sailor, and he’s talking to Louie. . . .  I never could understand the popularity of it.  [And the comma?]  Louie Louie.  No comma.”richard berry louie louieRichard Berry [1935-1997] died in his sleep; he was 61.  He had sold the rights to “Louie” and other works for $750.  In the mid-1980s, Berry was living on welfare in South Central L.A.  A drinks company wanted to use “Louie” in a commercial, and needed the rights.  Through some legal help, Richard Berry was able to obtain royalties worth about two million dollars. 

I still have some of my old censorship notes, and notes from later incidents of censorship that I became involved in: library banned books, classroom books, elementary school sex education programs, videos and films, and even the topic of censoring works of art while I was teaching humanities and art history.  And what about 1984Brave New WorldA Handmaid’s Tale?  Also, even, Song of Songs?  But it was the ‘60s culture, my being right in it all, that “Louie Louie” survives as part of my memoriesofatime of censorship.

I sat through the Parents’ Meetings, keeping my mouth shut, keeping quiet.  This storm will pass, I thought.  It did.  And the last week of school, in 1966, at the Senior Class Party, “my” seniors played me a post-teenage-alienation song, against a very restrictive society in thought and behavior and dress.  They knew I would like it: built on variants of the “Louie Louie” riff: “Get Off of My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones.  Oh, oh, me gotta go. . . .

 ©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2018

—Bob Greene.  “The Man Who Wrote ‘Louie Louie.’”  Esquire (September 1988).

—“Writer Couldn’t Grasp Popularity of ‘Louie Louie.’”  Chicago Tribune (19 Feb. 1997).

—“Richard Berry, 61, Wrote ‘Louie, Louie.’”  Associated Press Service.  L.A. Times.  23 Jan. 1997. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

On September 24, 2015, Pope Francis became the first pope to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.  Dorothy Day was one of four Americans mentioned by the Pope in his speech to the joint session that included Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Merton.  He said of Day: “Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”

Dorothy Day (November 8, 1897–November 29, 1980) was an American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert.  She initially lived a bohemian lifestyle before gaining fame as a social activist after her conversion, and later became a key figure in the Catholic Worker Movement, earning a national reputation as a political radical.  Some might perhaps deem her the most famous radical in American Catholic Church history.

In the 1930s, she worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that combined direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf.  She did practice civil disobedience, which led at times to arrests, in 1955, 1957, and even in 1973 at the age of seventy-five.

As part of the Catholic Worker Movement, Day co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933, and served as its editor from 1933 until her death in 1980. 

Day supported herself as a journalist, writing a gardening column for the local paper, the Staten Island Advance and features articles and book reviews for several Catholic publications, like Commonweal.

She wrote in her autobiography: “I could write, I could protest, to arouse the conscience, but where was the Catholic leadership in the gathering of bands of men and women together, for the actual works of mercy that the comrades had always made part of their technique in reaching the workers?”

The Catholic Worker Movement

In 1932, Day met Peter Maurin, the man she always credited as the founder of the movement with which she is identified.  Despite his lack of formal education, Maurin was a man of deep intellect and decidedly strong views, with a vision of social justice and its connection with the poor, partly inspired by St. Francis of Assisi. He provided Day with the grounding in Catholic theology of the need for social action they both felt.

The first issue of The Catholic Worker appeared on May 1, 1933, priced at one cent, and published continuously since then.  It was aimed at those suffering the most in the depths of the Great Depression, “those who think there is no hope for the future,” and announced to them that “the Catholic Church has a social program…there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.”

It was an unapologetic example of advocacy journalism.  It provided coverage of strikes, explored working conditions, especially of women and blacks, and explicated papal teaching on social issues.  Its viewpoint was partisan and stories were designed to move its readers to take action locally, for example, by patronizing laundries recommended by the Laundry Workers’ Union.  Its advocacy of federal child labor laws put it at odds with the American Church hierarchy from its first issue.  (Ironically, the paper’s principal competitor both in distribution and ideology was the Communist Daily Worker.)

In 1972, the Jesuit magazine America marked her 75th birthday by devoting an entire issue to Day and the Catholic Worker movement.  The editors wrote: “By now, if one had to choose a single individual to symbolize the best in the aspiration and action of the American Catholic community during the last forty years, that one person would certainly be Dorothy Day.”

Day suffered a heart attack and died on November 29, 1980, and is buried in the Cemetery of the Resurrection on Staten Island just a few blocks from the beachside cottage where she first became interested in Catholicism. Her many papers are housed at Marquette University along with many records of the Catholic Worker movement.

Much of her life in activism was fraught with controversy, Church versus anarchists, pacifism versus anarchism, respect for Castro and Ho Chi Minh, anti-Church and Franco.  Yet despite all her works and writings, she and her life cannot be easily dismissed or hidden away.  Her movement is a significant part of the cloth of American culture, of the spectrum of the American worker’s history, and is noted as part of her role in establishing non-violence as a Catholic principle: “the nonviolent witness of such figures as Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King has had profound impact upon the life of the Church in the United States” as written in a May 1983 pastoral letter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The Challenge of Peace.”

In 1983, the Claretian Missionaries put forth publicly a proposal for her canonization.  At the request of Cardinal John J. O’Connor, head of the diocese in which she lived, in March 2000, Pope John Paul II granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open her cause, allowing her to be called a “Servant of God” in the eyes of the Catholic Church.  As canon law requires, the Archdiocese of New York submitted this cause for the endorsement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which it received in November 2012.  However, some members of the Catholic Worker Movement objected to the canonization process as a contradiction of Day’s own values and concerns.  Nevertheless, Pope Benedict XVI, on February 13, 2013, in the closing days of his papacy, cited Day as an example of conversion.  He quoted from her writings and said: “The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless.”

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 Dorothy Day

 

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