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MEMOIRS

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

The word assassin is often believed to derive from the word Hashshashin, Arabic ħashshāshīyīn, also Hashishin, Hashashiyyin, or Assassins), sharing its etymological roots with hashish.  It referred to a group of Nizari Shia Muslims who worked against various political targets.  Founded by Hassan-i Sabbah, the Assassins were active in the fortress of Alamut in Persia from the 8th to the 14th centuries, and later expanded by capturing forts in Syria.  The group killed members of the Abbasid, Seljuq, Fatimid, and Christian Crusader elite for political and religious reasons.

Although it is commonly believed that Assassins were under the influence of hashish during their killings or during their indoctrination, there is debate as to whether these claims have merit, with many Eastern writers and an increasing number of Western academics coming to believe that drug taking was not the key feature behind the name.  The earliest known use of the verb “to assassinate” in printed English was by Matthew Sutcliffe in A Briefe Replie to a Certaine Odious and Slanderous Libel, Lately Published by a Seditious Jesuite, a pamphlet printed in 1600, five years before it was used in Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1605).  [Wikipedia]

      So I’m shaving, doing the usual routine: wash face, rinse, apply shaving cream or soap, begin the cutting/shaving process.  I shave the way I have always remembered to do it–my dad having taught me long ago the essentials, then with blue blades and razor (now with Mach3 Turbo).

razor blades

I begin with left side-burn, down to halfway my face.  Rinse razor.  Right side-burn, down halfway.  Then along left cheekbone to middle of chin.  Rinse.  Along right cheekbone, etc.  Rinse.  Cheeks.  Chin. 

Now my story begins as I stare into the mirror at my half-shaven face.  Raising my chin to see what I am doing, I place the razor back near my throat, above my Adam’s apple.  I drag the razor over my skin, through the foam, cutting down the one-day-or-more facial hair growth, my “beard.”  One stroke.  Another to my jawbone.  Then the razor glides smoothly over scar tissue, three to four inches long, midway from throat to under chin.  (“Did you try to kill yourself?!” echoes within my head.  On the inside of my left wrist I have a scar.  Diagonal across the wrist, with suture scars.  “When did you do that?”)

I continue with the stroke of my razor, through Barbasol shave cream, with scraping noises, and water running, rinsing.  Sometimes I linger longer with soap, a cup, and a brush–for variety.  My contemplation of the scar only happens sometimes.  I don’t know why.  But it makes me think of memoriesofatime.

Attempted Assassination #1:  Once upon a time, before I could tell stories, and long before I remember such early stories, my mother tells me that I fell down the basement stairs.  I was carrying Coca-Cola bottles.

coca cola bottles 1940s.jpg

The story is a bloody one, with gory details of a very young boy climbing up the stairs, presenting his mother a bloody wrist.  She thought that was the wound.  Until she saw the blood on my shirt.  “HYSTERICS!” she later told me.  A gaping wound.  I recall her telling “everything hanging down” and so many inches from the inside of my mouth and so many inches from my throat and windpipe.  It must have been frightful for my dear mother, and for my grandmother with whom we lived.  I’m lucky, and glad I don’t remember the details.  “But I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

During one of my many part-time jobs, I worked as an orderly in a hospital emergency room.  One winter a snowmobile accident victim was brought in.  He was well pickled and well preserved with alcohol.  But while sporting in the dark, he and a friend crashed into a barbed-wire fence.  This man had his throat flayed open, displaying his windpipe before me as I moved him from the ambulance gurney to the ER table.  THAT was frightful!  He felt no pain as he was being attended to . . .

Attempted Assassination #2:  South Side of Chicago.  Cold, no snow.  Saint Justin Martyr Elementary School (now closed; just history).  I’m in 4th grade in the 1950s.  Our school had a meeting hall, no cafeteria, but a hall for parties or family gatherings.  Also it was used for movies for us kids.  I was one of those kids lucky enough to see a very real film.  The films were infrequent, nearly never.  But this 4th grade time was different.  Three or four grades of us children could be seated into the hall built below the church above.  Not many more could fit.  So there we were, probably watching The Bells of Saint Mary’s in preparation for the holiday season.  (A movie a year was probably one too many for the Sisters of Mercy, our teachers.)

End of movie.  “All rise” (to the sound of that cricket-clicker) in silence.  “Pick up your chairs . . .” And we stacked our chairs.  The “Great Hall” was ready to be emptied.  “Lines, please.”  We lined up, and were led out of the room by grades, our smiling Sister Doloretta standing at the door as we left.  “Jimmy,” she said, “would you please go and turn off that light switch.”  She pointed in the direction of a light across the naked hall. 

I ran to the switch, flicked it suavely, and turned to . . . utter darkness.  I had turned off the last light in the basement.  I could see, however, away from me, the light coming through the open exit door and the dark shape of my nun-teacher.  Eager to get out of that place to be with my classmates, I ran to the light.  BAM!  “What the..?”  Millions of bright lights and stars in my head.  I was on my back.  “What?  OW!  That hurt!”  Tears, I held my left hand to my eye.  Oh, the throbbing pain.  I made my way to standing next to one of the ceiling support posts.  I crashed into that, head-on, left-eye to nose.

I wobbled to the light and the Dark Shadowed Sister of Mercy.  “Oh, my!  Look at that bump!  What happened?”  I mumbled an answer as she led me to the classroom.  (There was a touching moment I must share here.  Before we left, she pulled me to her, and held me tight against her hard, stiff-starched bib.  Surely I must have shed some tears on the white starched part of her habit.)  Those in the classroom were quiet when we arrived.  They looked at me, the spectacle.

So here was the First Aid, no kidding:______________.  No cold pack, no ice.  “Sit at your seat.  Put your head down.  Down on . . . a Scotch tape can!

scotch tape can

Believe it.  I applied pressure of my throbbing, welting, pounding injured eye socket onto a Scotch tape can.  I tried my most uncomfortably best to lay my head onto this metal can.  (Sister did come to wipe away my forehead and my tears.  My classmates were silent quiet.)

It was nearly noontime, lunchtime.  (The movie was planned that way, to be finished before lunch.)  I was being sent home.  My sister, Janice, was in 6th grade, waiting for me, to go home for lunch.  I had a note for my mother explaining the incident.  By now, my eye was swollen closed.  My sister and I walked home the six city blocks, hand in hand, as usual.  My mother seeing me?  “HYSTERICS!!”  “Were you trying to kill yourself?!”  “What happened?  Oh, my poor, poor . . .” The scar is in my left eyebrow.

Attempted Assassination #3:  Summer 1964.  At the end of my first year of teaching 9th grade English at St Viator High School (Arlington Heights, Ill.).  The first summer of being newly married (after October 1963) with baby on the way (to arrive in August).  The first summer to have a part-time job to supplement teacher salary: Jewel Tea Company. 

I answered an ad for warehouse workers.  I unloaded, from boxcars, packaged and canned foods onto pallets, the food then warehoused for later loading onto delivery trucks.  Five days a week inside a giant warehouse, I opened unlocked boxcars that had been moved into the building.  The opening for the car was level with the deck, the platform.boxcar unloading

Boxcar Unloading

It was tiring, dirty, hard work, no doubt about it.  The pay, nevertheless, was good.  I was young, able, 185 pounds, strong, able to lift sixty-pound bags of sugar.  (We, my partner and I, were able to empty a sugar car in an hour–a Jewel Tea record!) Sugar cars, ketchup, fruit cocktail, canned vegetables of all kinds, flour, and more and more.  Imagine grocery store shelves.

Every once in a while, the large door handle would not lift open the door.  The contents inside the car might have shifted, blocking or jamming the door.  Or just age and rust and dirt outside.  The handles, locks, and seals were lifted up with two hands, then swung out and away from the door–on some cars.  This acted as a lever, to slide open the door in its track.

boxcar detailed image Boxcar Door Mechanism

One morning, I had to jump down between and behind two cars to get to the car we were going to unload.  I found myself between the cars and the wall, slowly making my way to our work car.  “Hurry!  Time is money!”  (Yes, we could get incentive bonuses.)  I then quickly moved in the dark, the only light coming from under the cars from the platform.  It was as though I were walking in a tunnel with a very high roof.  BAM!  Stars.  All the stars.  I was knocked backwards, gradually losing my composure, and was down sitting on my butt.  Pain!  Intense pain in the middle of my forehead.  Burning.  “Are you down there?  What’s taking so long?”

A handle was down, pointing out and away from the car.  Someone had tried to get into the car at some point, but left the job unfinished and the handle for my head.  “I’m all right.  I’m hurt.  I’ll be there.”  Blood dripping off my nose, I could feel the wet on my face.  I stood up and crawled over the couplers of the boxcars.  My partner pulled me up onto the platform.

The supervisor was there and carted me to the nurse.  “Trying to kill yourself?!”  B-I-G bump.  Swelling.  Iced.  Bandaged.  Rested on a cot for a few hours “for observation.”  Then I was sent home with a note, some dressings, and some painkillers–and told to take the next day off.  (I drove myself home under the influence.)  My pregnant wife: “What happened?!”  “I hit my head.  I’m all right.”  I have a Y-shaped scar to prove it all, buried in my forehead, between my eyebrows.  (I almost lost my head.  Well, maybe not.)

ConclusionSome may think my brain is addled from the damage I could have incurred from these incidents.  I was never checked for concussions.  However, in between that first bloody fall down the stairs, until now, I have had my share of bumps and knocks, especially with cabinet doors and car doors, even once or twice falling out of bed landing on my head.  However, all nothing major.  I’ve had no outstanding incidents of head trauma that have made me slow . . . that I’m aware of.  Now that toboggan accident . . .

* * *

Black’s Law Dictionary:  Assassination is “the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons” (Legal Research, Analysis and Writing by William H. Putman, p. 215).  [Attempted killing of oneself is not attempted assassination, of course.  The incidents described herein were not of my doing; they “happened”–or someone or something was attempting to assassinate me . . .]

©  James F O’Neil  2019

 

 

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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

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

“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:

 

“To work together, words need help.  They need connecting words, and they need punctuation.  All methods of punctuation point the way for the reader, gathering, linking, separating, and emphasizing what truly matters.  These marks are more than squiggles on a page.  They are the ligaments of meaning and purpose.”  –Roy Peter Clark, The Glamour of Grammar, 2010.

At one English conference I attended, long into my teaching career, I listened to a speaker lecture about grammar, and teaching punctuation.  I heard him say clearly that the semicolon was such a sophisticated piece of punctuation that it should not be used until students were in 12th grade!  Sophistication, and more.

semicolons

It differs from everything else–the comma, colon, period–yet incorporates each with a semblance of “uniqueness”: slow…explain…stop.  All at the same time.  But it’s a slow-stopper, not a full-stopper.  A breather.  (“Take a breath,” it says.)  It is just so useful, so delightful, so important, and so special.  Not to be easily misused.  Roy Peter Clark describes it as an object that connects and separates at the same time, like a swinging gate, even: “a barrier that forces separation but invites you to pass through to the other side” (Glamour of Grammar).  It is so special.

But it wasn’t always so special then as it is to me now.  Memories of a time: My latest high school composition returned to me.  The paper had red-pen bleedings…D31…here and there, with some comments written in the margins, from my teacher Father William Flaherty.  william-flaherty-ma-stl

These bloody droppings, references to items in our writing handbook [which I still keep under pain of excommunication!], these codes, symbols, cryptic messages…D31…we would have to consult, we would try to learn well enough before the next theme or essay was due.  It did not always work that way so easily.  Repeatedly I would make those same mistakes/errors…D31…until…the semester ended. 

writing-handbook HANDBOOK USED 1956-1960

New semester: same rules about that pesky semicolon.  But more “sophisticated” examples for us to follow.  For the next year.  And the next.  Then the end of 12th grade.  Done with all the gobbledygook about punctuation and grammar rules.  “All done.  I’m putting that handbook away!”  Then: College.  More writing books, like The Elements of Style.  Never did I expect D31 to follow me, to become such a part of my writing life.  I was impressed with D31, impressed upon by D31:

“Use a semicolon rather than a comma before and, or, nor, but, and for in a compound sentence if–A Either clause is long–say, three or four lines.  B Either clause contains a comma, colon, dash, or parentheses.”    

That’s how I learned it; that’s how I used it; that’s how I taught it.  So here I am, so many years later, out of the classroom, yet still concerned with punctuation and with the special semicolon.

How special?  When I first read not long ago the words “Project Semicolon” in a blog posting, I thought it was another grammar site, part of the Common Core, intending to teach today’s students in elementary and high school grades the sophistication and beauty of using the semicolon.  I became excited that there existed devotion still to punctuation, and especially to my favorite special mark.  What a surprise when I clicked on the link:  http://www.projectsemicolon.org/

PROJECT SEMICOLON is a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.  PROJECT SEMICOLON exists to encourage, love, and inspire.  How fitting a sign the “organization” has chosen to symbolize the purpose of the group: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to.  You are the author and the sentence is your life.  Your story is not over.”  The mark is most often seen or displayed as a tattoo, placed behind an ear or on an arm or wrist.  It often represents the wearer’s past (the before), the present (the now), and what will or can be or should be (the future): a “slow-stopper,” not a “full-stopper,” indicating that there is more to come, more to the story. 

So why would someone ever have a tattoo of a punctuation mark, for everyone to see?  Is this like “wearing a heart upon a sleeve”?  I believe so.  To be very open about one’s emotions, not ashamed of the past, being honest; being loyal and truthful in the present, with no secrets; and perhaps never to forget the adventure of life to come, the future.  Openness and honesty is risky business.  It takes courage to admit, to “come out,” as it were.  And the tattoo is symbolic of this.  I like it, endorse it, support it, and support the organization.

semicolon-arm-tattoo

There it is: I am a marked man.  An impressed man.  My tat indicates a story to be told; or it promises, better, that something lies beneath the embedded ink and the skin–perhaps some “in-depth” meaning.  And that explanation is saved, remains, for another day.

©  James F. O’Neil  2017

 

 

Save

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

 

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