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FAVORITE THINGS

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“We’ve been playing games since humanity had civilization.  There is something primal about our desire and our ability to play games.  It’s so deep-seated that it can bypass latter-day cultural norms and biases.”  — Jane McGonigal

“You have to learn the rules of the game.  And then you have to play better than anyone else.”    — Albert Einstein

***

I hate games!

I don’t care whether they are intellectually or physically challenging: I simply hate them.

I have been a Player in this Game of Life.  It’s a game, with winners and losers.  And that “crap” about “it’s not about winning but how you play the game”?  It’s crap!  Otherwise, why keep score?  Statistics?  Population numbers?  Win-Loss columns?  Is that what Life is all about?  Scoring?

So life is The Big Game, this life of ours.  From beginning to end.  Parameters.

When did it all begin?  (Big Bang Game Theory?)  LET THE GAME BEGIN!

Who set the rules?  “RULE NUMBER ONE: Don’t eat the fruit from that tree over there!”  And all amid them stood the Tree of life, / High eminent, blooming Ambrosial Fruit / of Vegetable Gold; and next to Life / Our Death the Tree of Knowledge grew fast by, / Knowledge of Good bought dear by knowing ill.  [Paradise Lost, IV:218-22.]  Was there a rule book for the participants?  Too late!  “Unfair!”

Ten Commandments?  The Constitution?  Case Law?  “Color inside the lines.”

Does everyone get a chance to play?  (“Many are called, but few are chosen”?)  The strong/strongest survive–those picked for the team.  But “some play by different rules” (“march to a different drummer?).  The mystery of it all boggles my mind.

4.1.2

Boggle–I hate that game, especially the three-minute sand timer: “the sands of time run out.”  Maybe the Whole of Life is Boggle?  or maybe Monopoly?  What game are we playing that is NOT physically or intellectually challenging?

From birth, I play Either/Or: Either breathe or not, crawl or not, walk or not.  If I can move, I move on to the next plateau, the next level.  (Flying is out of the question: I have to compete with gravity–and that is really some opponent, that Gravity Character!).

Physically, I learn the rules as I grow: “Don’t touch!  You’ll burn yourself!”  “Careful!  You’ll fall!”  Those rules of physics, natural science, natural selection, X-Y rules, and other theories, like Germ Theory.  I have to compete with bugs; I have to fight, win-lose, survive: illness, wellness, strength, weakness; weather, climate, natural destruction and/or disaster. 

Most of this is out of my control, usually lucky or not.  (Is 98% of my life really out of my hands, not under my control?  Fate?  Chance?  Providence?  Good or Bad Luck?  Predestination?) 

Oh, the Lucky Theory: Where was I born?  On an island?  In Canada?  On a tectonic plate line?  (A “fault” line?  whose fault?)  In a village in the Sudan?  Oh, that Lucky Theory.  So some have been dealt one hand better than another.  Another Game of Life: Poker, Hearts, Go Fish (“Teach a man to fish…”).  The metaphors, the symbols, the myths all reflect–or are–Game Theory in Life:  kings, queens, jacks, spades, clubs, deuces, aces.  And those Tarot Cards?  Have you seen the movie The Red Violin?

the-red-violinI hate games.  Chess?  A beauty this is, with royalty, pawns, knights, and even a bishop or two.  I was even in the high school chess club.  I played on a miniature board with a classmate while we rode the “L” to school.  I made a chess board for my boys.  But I’ve had it with chess.  And Battleship, Solitaire, Minesweeper, Husker Du, or HOOSKER DOO– whatever.  I have outgrown Cops-n-Robbers, lost my Confederate soldier cap, never did the Cowboys-n-Indians thing, but Soldiers?  Now THAT… 

I was a regular in John Wayne’s squad–er, Sgt. Stryker’s squad: “You gotta learn right and you gotta learn fast.  And any man that doesn’t want to cooperate, I’ll make him wish he had never been born.”

john-wayne-sands-of-iwo-jimaJOHN WAYNE aka SGT Stryker

I had the pluck.  I had the skinned knees to show my battle damage as I played war games on the neighborhood sidewalks of Chicago.  Not in the parks: Couldn’t be too far from home.  Not too far from supper.  Not out too late.  Homework.   

Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians (13.11), in that now-famous verse, that when he became a man, he wasn’t playing with the kids anymore.  I can’t believe that:  “…when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  No, he didn’t stop playing.  (I just bet he was a good soccer player!)  He is saying that at the time he was serious about love.  And life.  But not that we couldn’t have fun.  Nor shouldn’t have fun.

Subsequently, I accept Life.  The Game of Life.  I’ll play.  I’m in.  Deal me in.  I hope I get a good hand.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed.  I shall play my best.  Besides, it’s not about winning and losing but about how I play the game anyhow, right?  (Said that.  Heard that so many times.  That mantra.)  I’ll keep my eyes on the prize, maybe getting into the semi-finals, for I know that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” 

Along the way, I might even pick up a medal or two–or a ribbon–or have a moment of fame.  I’ll run the good race, fight the good fight, go for a three-pointer, believe I can win.  “I think I can.  I think I can.  I think I can.  I know I can.”

thinker-by-rodinRodin’s THE THINKER

“HE SCORES!”

I’ll have to wait, however, in the “the kiss-and-cry area” for my results, maybe not a Perfect 10, but for sure a

-30-

©  James F. O’Neil  2017

NUGAS LUDOSQUE ANTE GRAVIA.

[FUN AND GAMES BEFORE SERIOUS THINGS]

I cannot forget the motto of my college class.

Cardinal Glennon College (Saint Louis, Missouri), 1963:

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, who scored a top ten hit with the song.  Originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmastime, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has since gone on to become a Christmas standard.  It has a beautiful message of being at home with family during the most wonderful time of the year.  The song has been recorded by Perry Como (1946), Frank Sinatra (1957), Josh Groban (2001), Kelly Clarkson (2011), Pentatonix (2016), and by many other artists.

* * *

“Home Is Where the Heart Is.”

“A House Is Not a Home.”

“Home, Home on the Range”

“A Man’s Home Is His Castle.”

“Home Is Where Your Story Begins.”

“There’s No Place Like Home.”

You Can’t Go Home Again

“Where is your home?”  More than once, I have had to list “former addresses.”  Most of the time for a job application: “for the past ten years.”  Or once when I applied to the Governor a few years ago for a position on a local board: “all previous addresses.”  “Where do you live?”  Most of us have had to do this applying for credit, for some license, or for a gun purchase.  Certainly, those of us who have gone past second grade are so familiar with “Name-Address-Phone Number.”  And we learn quickly, so we’re not lost, or for identification purposes: “Do you know your address?”  Sometimes a post office box–P.O. Box 357–or rural route, R.R. #6, is the only way correspondence can be addressed to a person.  Even some addresses are the name of the place where a person lives:

christmas-biltmore-candlelightBiltmore Mansion at Christmas  Asheville, North Carolina

Recently, my wife and I had an interesting breakfast conversation that began with our considering “downsizing” again, disposing of more of our “stuff.”  We laughed that our present home was 860 sq. ft. downsized from our 1800 sq. ft. home we left six years ago.  Our talking led to a short list of some homes we’ve had in our married life: size and characteristics.  For the next few days, we thought up some questions about our residences.  By later in the week, we had compiled a list of something about each.  We realized each possessed a unique quality.  A house has its physical dimensions, furniture, character and style, and “story” to be told, if but one.  We had more than enough for talking about.

So where to begin?  How to begin?  We found ourselves conversing about kids, and jobs and illnesses, and once or twice humming “Our house is a very, very fine house with two cats in the yard…”  (Even though we once had four cats that never went out.  So many memories of times.)  One question we settled on first, though, was “How did we get there?”  Nothing to do with a U-Haul or moving van.  Was it climate-related?  Job-related?  Did it have to do with our health? The size of the family?  (Our one-bedroom wedding apartment, then into a new apartment a year later, “with a room for the new baby” in our garden apartment in Palatine, Illinois.)

Or was it a move to some place just because we “liked” something bigger, better, newer?  (Our move from a 7th-floor condominium apartment, with its garbage chute and elevators and condo restrictions, but which overlooked the beautiful Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida, to a house with a yard and trees and lawn to cut.

moorings-point-fort-myers-1987

The Moorings Point  North Fort Myers, Florida

We tired of high-rise condo living after three years.)  We concluded our exercise with an “Oh,-the-places-you’ll-go” moment

oh-the-places-youll-go novelreaction.com

with an inventory of questions, including a “best overall,” a “worst,” a “best financial decision” to “lousy deal.”  We had answers, and a major event for each separate place, to include “Why did we leave?”  Then came more inquiring, for example, what changes made a place more comfortable or perfectly matched to our lifestyle (the one house we had built)?

mcmahon-construction-1981

     McMahon Avenue Home Construction  Port Charlotte, Florida

In our fifty-plus years together, we have undertaken two MAJOR migratory events, moving from Chicago to Minnesota (in 1966, for 14 years), and moving from The Land of 10,000 Lakes to the Sunshine State of Florida (in 1980).  In any event, all our house-home-stories begin with our apartment hunting in summer 1963, before our October wedding.  And so it goes from there.

A favorite and important story-within-a-story we relate often is about my driving with a teacher-colleague to his job interview in Minnesota.  He needed a reliable vehicle: our 1964 VW was chosen for the February weekend trip, the back of the car loaded with bags of sand and salt and shovels.  We were prepared for weather events or highway problems.  (There were neither.)

While Lennie was being interviewed on that cold Saturday morning, I was passing time in the Dean’s waiting room, paging through magazines.  A young man entered, then inquired what I was doing.  He heard, then told me to spend some time with him.  He was a departmental chairperson.  I ended up in conversation, just chatting; he presented a program description–and offered me a job.

My friend and I did pros-and-cons for the 300-mile trip home.  I took the job; we moved in July 1966.  He declined his offer; he could not afford the move with his family.  And that was the beginning of that story.

Some persons never move, never leave.  Ever.  (Some of my former students still live in their original bedrooms in their first and only house.)  Others have made annual moves, for whatever reasons.  (“Join the Navy.  See the world!” came out of World War II–and stayed as a popular slogan, and reality.)

join-the-navyHowever, Americans, says the Census Bureau, are staying in the same house longer between moves: from 5 years, on average, in the 1950s and 1960s, to about 8.6 years in 2013.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American moves 12 times during his or her lifetime.  Since our wedding-apartment in 1963, we have had eighteen (18) addresses and moves.  Surely, we deliberated many times over with questions like those asked during our recent activity.  For each dwelling, we know why we chose it instead of another. 

History of the home (structure moved into town from a farm, original Homestead building site).  How we lived in it. 

sanborn-farm-home-1976

SANBORN FARM HOME   SANBORN, MINNESOTA

How we loved it.  How we made a family.  How the family grew, then decreased (graduations and marriages).  How we responded to forces around the home (weather, landscape).  How the house-home became part of us. 

This analytical time for houses, homes, and addresses has been fulfilling–even despite some hurtful memoriesofatime past or pain that might have arisen.  Overall, though, looking back at our downsizing exercise, we find we are now in a good place and time to look back at ourselves and our lives together–and how “nomadic” we thought we were.  However, “if we had it to do all over again . . .”

* * *

“We can’t separate who we are from where we are.  People are rooted in time and place, so our psychic space is generously seasoned with memories of physical territories.  …  The geography of our past is part of memory.  …  Every human emotion is seeded in the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of specific environments.”  — Sam Keen, Your Mythic Journey: Finding Meaning in Your Life through Writing and Storytelling (1973, 1989).

 * * *

“Country roads, take me home…” (John Denver); and then “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

melby-house-mabel-minn-1975

THE MELBY HOUSE OUR FAVORITE-IST OF THEM ALL  MABEL, MINNESOTA

 

From Laura T. Martin, Music, Blacksburg Elementary/Primary School

“We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”

 …

  1. I think part of a best friend’s job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.
  2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.
  3. I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.
  4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.
  5. How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?
  6. Was learning cursive really necessary?
  7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on #5. I’m pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.
  8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
  9. Bad decisions make good stories.
  10. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.
  11. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don’t want to have to restart my collection…again.
  12. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.
  13. Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the heck was going on when I first saw it.
  14. I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take two trips to bring my groceries in.
  15. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
  16. How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?
  17. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent an idiot from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!
  18. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.
  19. Is it just me or do high school kids get dumber and dumber every year?
  20. There’s no worse feeling than that millisecond you’re sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.
  21. As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers.
  22. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch three consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

interrobang

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens:  “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.”

“Why the emperor of ice cream?  It’s an odd combination: an absolute, imperial power and a benign, sweet treat.  Ice cream is a sensuous delight, eagerly anticipated and gleefully consumed.  If you wait too long to eat it, it’ll melt.  So much for the ice cream–now what about the emperor?

“Ice cream is like life: sweet, or at least hungrily indulged in, while it lasts.  It’s also like the dead: cold and destined to be consumed or to dissipate away.  Perhaps, then, the line that closes each stanza is a wake-up call to readers.  If the “only emperor” or dominant principle of the world is the one we’re reminded of when we see ice cream melting–(or, in a different way, when we attend a funeral  [shown in the poem])–we’d be well advised to heed it and make each moment count.”  –Austin Allen, Poetry [magazine] Foundation

Once upon a time: Rainbow cones on the South Side: 93rd and Western in Chicago.

RAINBOW CONE chicago

There see the giant cone, with five or six colors in slices–not scoops–of ice cream piled on top of one another. 

We screamed with excitement for ice cream as our family made its special way farther south of our Marshfield home.  It was a drive from Marquette Boulevard.  No quick 45-mph trip like today.  Probably in the green ’52 Chevy, 25-30 mph, with plenty of stoplights interrupting the special occasion.

Now when it comes to memories in time about flavors, I don’t recall any special Rainbow offerings, but the colors were vibrant.  This is embedded in me.  And in days before Rainbow–and after–ice cream has been a special weakness of mine.  Not as an addiction, like anything-chocolate, but as that special “Good Nutrition My Plate” (nestled within the perfect food container that not only holds but is eaten) with its various food groups which include NUTS (coco-nut and chocolate peanut butter, pistachio and black walnut); FRUITS (like White House Cherry and rum raisin); DAIRY (lemon gelato and butter pecan);  PROTEIN (egg nog and phish food, and chunky monkey and chocolate Moose-tracks); VEGETABLES (carrot-cake and chocolate malted and mint chocolate chip); GRAINS (chocolate cookie dough, and Grape-nuts).

my plate image

However, Rainbow was but one special source of providing me with melting gustatory delights.  No doubt about it, Good Humor was like no other.

good-humor

The bells of the truck signaled the Coming of the Man in White. He enticed us kids to come outside our homes or from our apartments, or made us stop dead in our playing-tracks.  If we had the twenty or twenty-five cents, our saved nickels and dimes, we made our purchases.

good-humor-man good humor dot comAnd?  “Coconut for me, please.”  The delicious-tasting ice cream bar on a stick, covered completely with a thin coat of white-something loaded with coconuts pieces.  Heaven as I ate it.  Heavenly.  If my favorite was not available, I had to settle for something like chocolate cake or perhaps succumb to savoring an orange creamsickle:

good humor orange creamsickle

Good Humor exists today, in supermarkets, in 7-11, in other places, and even with a few trucks in certain neighborhood locations.  “But it’s not the same.”  Yet I would never turn down a chocolate eclair, a toasted almond, or even a strawberry shortcake bar.

Howard Johnson’s at some time was a place I remember first seeing coconut milk on the menu.  I thought that it would provide me with a special ice cream treat: a coconut milk milkshake.  O YES!  YES!  YES!  And then, later, I asked, “A coconut malted milkshake, please.”  The nectar of the gods for sure!

Gus Pappas died in 1987.  He was 83–and that was a long-ago moment.  In 1953, “Mr. Pappas” (“Gus”) bought a corner confectionery in the Byrne Building, at Garfield (55th) and Halsted: Pappas Sweet Shop.  We just knew it as the ice cream shop.  It was a hangout for me and my friend Bill Manion, or with Joe Balint.  My sister and her friends found time to have their ice cream and their teen-age talk-sessions there.

BURNS BUILDING Pat Telios Reagan BYRNE BUILDING WITH PAPPAS CORNER

No matter how warm outside, I remember the store was always cool inside, with its white tile floors and marble counter-tops.  Cool was needed to keep the dipped, rolled, and wrapped delicacies fresh and tasty (Oh, those chocolate-covered cherries!): Who needed Fannie May candies when we had Pappas on the corner?

Gus had a son, James (“Jimmy” to us), who worked in the store.  In my time, Jimmy began singing with the Chicago Metropolitan Opera.  Though his first role was in the chorus (My mother and I saw him in La Boheme.), he was a star to me.  He brought music and fun-with-music into my life, and an appreciation of opera that I do cherish.  And there is nothing today that compares to my savoring a Green River Malted Milkshake, with homemade ice cream, that Jimmy Pappas made for me.  Yum!

green river malt

GREEN RIVER MALTED MILKSHAKE

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

 Vanilla-Coconut-Milkshake-Silk-PureCoconut COCONUT MILK

Major Ingredient of a Homemade Coconut Milkshake

 


 

 

Each of us brings our personal history to the table of writing, revision, editing, and criticism.”  –Roy Peter Clark, HELP! for Writers [Little, Brown, 2011]

. . .

Writing movie reviews and book reviews in a journal or as a blog is an excellent opportunity to write briefly, succinctly, pointedly.  Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, and the New York Times can serve as good sources and models for their exposition and narration.

Writing reviews is, first, self-expression.  The author is able to use simple critical writing skills and the basics of criticism: to discover PURPOSE; to judge the WORTH; and to criticize the TECHNIQUE.      

Some movie critics remind writers first to enjoy and to realize the entertainment, then to express that enjoyment–or disappointment.

The review is a free form; for in a review virtually everything is relevant: subject matter, technique, social and intellectual background, biographical facts, relationships to other similar works, historical importance, and everything else.  Evaluation is only one of the aims; for there may be other elements of the work under discussion, special difficulties . . . to explain, and special features . . . to note.  –Edgar Roberts, Writing Themes about Literature (1964)

In addition, the reviewer can consider tone, ideas, characters, story, imagery, symbolism, style, music, and other aspects and techniques–and, of course, include a list of favorites, from time to time.

As time passes, the favorites list will change; new films and movies will be produced.  However, one thing for sure, “We’ll always have Paris.” –or we can always “Round up the usual suspects.”  A journal-er or blogger will never be at a loss to find a good movie to watch, and talk about, and think about:  a review.

Some All-Time Favorites: Casablanca  Love Actually  A Room with a View  Singin’ in the Rain  Girl with a Pearl Earring  Moonstruck  West Side Story  Forbidden Planet   Doctor Zhivago  Some Like It Hot  To Kill a Mockingbird  Fargo  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  Metropolis

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