Loquacity

I was the kid that certain adults needed to tell things to. I guess I seemed educable. The result was endless hours of tedium with little reward, except the questionable attention.

Somewhere I got the notion that I should treat my elders with respect, no matter how nutty or boring they might be. This, I suppose, was at the root of my troubles. My compliance was probably taken as interest.

Also, having had adults as my sole companions until around age five, and almost all of them with intellectual interests that daily washed over me, I was at home in the adult world. I spoke like an adult, comfortable with abstractions, with full sentences and a broad vocabulary. I read books; I played the piano.

So, I got trapped at large family-social events where an adult new to the family orbit would discover me. I got cornered. I was helpless. I felt as sort of a surrogate for the whole family as this new adult (it was always a man) poured out his life’s observations and advice on how to succeed in the world.

I did occasionally meet the temporarily interesting older man. In fact, there was almost always something new to learn, but most of the time the nugget was quickly revealed and the rest was ordinary, sometimes pathetic. I learned it was a mistake to show that the little nugget was a thing of interest—it tended to encourage the one-sided conversation, sometimes beyond the limits that I had previously experienced.

So, let us say I was a good listener in my early days.

I’m afraid now that I catch myself being the loquacious old fool that I long ago could not avoid.

The manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured.
Dean Acheson

 

 

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Sinfonia Concertante

June, 1971

I was as lonesome and low as ever I had been. Here I was in Fresno, of all remote places—remote from the big cities I was used to and the people I knew there. Fresno means “ash” in Spanish, the town being named after the Fresno River that flows from the Sierra Nevada and nourishes the groves of fig trees and other agricultural treasures of the Great Central Valley of California.

My life was in ashes. I lived three Volkswagen Beetle-hours away from my two young children whom I visited every weekend. My marriage had crumbled. I had a job in “Fresno County Mental Health.” My belongings, other than clothes and necessaries, fit into two wooden orange crates—mostly books and records. I had no disposable income after giving most of my paycheck to my soon-to-be former wife.

My father said Beethoven brought him through The Great Depression when he was struggling to hold the family business together after all his senior relatives died, and then jobless for a year until the day I was born in January, 1937. We had music in the house, always— not only Dad’s Beethoven and Brahms, but Aunt Angie’s Tchaikovsky and Chopin, Mom’s Bach (“Ave Maria”), Aunt Bee’s and Uncle Harry’s more eclectic selections, and Grandpa’s popular Greek ballads and dances.

I was the one, much later in life, who “discovered” Mozart. It was Mozart who rescued me.

I don’t know how I came upon his Sinfonia Concertante, but there it was and I played it on my portable turntable and speakers of barely adequate fidelity. It was a warm and clear Sunday morning, the first weekend since I moved to Fresno that I had not visited my two children some 200 miles away.

The first movement began in the major mode quite cheerfully, but not yet extraordinarily, but then … as the introduction concluded with the string section approaching then lingering in the upper registers, out of the sky came a sublime violin voice that soared like a bird down to earth to play for me.

My heavy heart began to stir. I opened the door to my apartment to let in the sun and warm morning air. I eased myself to a sunny spot on the floor, let the music wash over me, and was taken by Mozart to a place where, after daily playing of the piece in all its movements, I recovered my natural optimism and my life began again.

The music eventually attracted a woman a few doors away on the second level overlooking the communal swimming pool, but that’s another story…

The Facts

I was raised as a city kid, in San Francisco, then Brooklyn, by the time I learned about “the facts” when I was 11 years old. This was 1948.

As a city kid I had no experience observing animals mating to procreate, so I had nothing to help me correlate what little I did know about male and female coupling to get to the answers I was looking for.

I was advanced for my age in logical argument, by nature, through reading, and by having a father who was well educated and verbal. I knew that men and women were built differently, a discovery made at age 5½ when my sister was born. It was easy to correlate this visible difference with the street knowledge gained from older boys to understand that men and women could couple, physically. I also knew, after a few years in a Brooklyn slum, that one didn’t have to be married to couple with a female, if you were lucky enough.

And I, in those naïve days and time, did “know” that babies followed the marriage ceremony by observing family and watching the movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

So, I knew that males and females could couple, and sometimes did before marriage, but that babies didn’t appear until after marriage. This presented a logical dilemma for me. What was it about the marriage ceremony that allowed the female to become pregnant after coupling (all right, I did use the word “fucking,” a common enough word on the streets of Brooklyn.)

Further, to prevent my more fully understanding things, I was not yet producing anything from my body to give me clues to the insemination process, although I was engaging in plenty of practice.

I imagined some sort of mechanism inside the woman that prevented pregnancy before marriage, despite the possibility of having coupled before marriage. This mechanism was some kind of switch which, when the minister declared the man and woman married, automatically activated to allow coupling to produce babies.

That’s as far as I got with this stream of logic.

I can’t remember what stimulated my father to start the conversation with me about “the facts of life”, a phrase often heard but always to be explained later. It was a wonderful day—the sun was streaming in the living room window of our third-floor railroad apartment, the top floor of our ancient tenement building on the corner of Third Avenue and 48th Street. I was practicing the piano, with Dad sitting beside me to make sure I was completing my exercises. We started to talk, and the subject somehow came up. Dad was uncomfortable about subjects relating to the body and sex, but he had a great sense of duty and he was concerned about the street knowledge I was gaining.

I let him know about my theory, which relieved him of having to tell me about the preliminaries and we quickly got to the heart of the matter.

He explained the physiology and biology of it all, very thoroughly and succinctly. It was a wonderful revelation! I felt elated and excited about this knowledge, and it opened a new intellectual interest in the life sciences. I could hardly wait to tell my friends who were still wallowing in ignorance.

I can’t remember whether it was Gerry Nelsen, Richie Larson, or Ginky Carnes whom I excitedly told, but the response was: “who gives a fuck, Four-eyes?”

A Visit to the Old Neighborhood in Brooklyn

Diane, my younger sister, had a chance to accompany me to a hospital convention in Philadelphia in 1981. My wife, being pregnant with our second child, didn’t want to travel from Anchorage to the east coast of the “lower 48.” My board’s president, Ray, who loved to travel with his wife at the hospital’s expense to these annual meetings, insisted I bring a companion to round out the party; I could think of no better person than my sister who then lived in San Jose, California.

By prearrangement, Ray and I were to meet some financial people in Manhattan, a short train ride from Philly, and we had some free time before the meeting. Diane and I decided to visit the old Brooklyn neighborhood in a taxi. Dad had moved the family there from San Francisco on New Year’s Day, 1946, where he had gotten a job at his cousin’s printing company to replace his shipyard job which ended after the War.

It had been 30 years since the family had left the awful neighborhood in Brooklyn and escaped back to California. Dad got what he needed for himself and the family, his printer’s union card, but we all paid a dear price for it. We were orphaned from our California family and were surrounded by dirt, disorder and occasional savagery, as I matured from boy to teenager in these five-and-a-half years.

Third Avenue and 48th Street, we told the driver—Bay Ridge—between the Third Avenue Elevated and the docks to the west. As we neared the old neighborhood I felt a wave of dread wash over me, old and submerged memories struggled to the surface. I was in fight or flight mode again. There: where our rickety, roach infested three-story tenement stood on the corner was now a rather modern and efficient-looking auto repair shop. I was trembling.

There was no objective cause for my fright: no armies of children roaming the street or playing stickball, no angry young men gathered in front of the corner candy store, no matrons on the stoops gossiping and cursing, no drunks staggering out of the flophouse—no people at all.

We drove a bit further down the street where 48th Street’s four main tenements, all with a common basement area, used to stand side by side. They were filthy rubble now and I could see over the top of it all to glimpse some 47th Street buildings, foreign territory when I was a youth. Diane leaped out of the halted taxi to take pictures, but I was rooted by ancient fears and couldn’t leave the taxi follow her.

Brooklyn-08

Diane took her pictures and, after another look at the corner where we had lived (no more candy store, the flop-house on the opposite corner seeming to be abandoned), we left to look at our old school a few blocks away: Public School Number Two: P.S. 2. What used to be a three-story brick building with tall iron gates was now a plastic modular building decorated with graffiti. I was disappointed not to see the old building which, to this day, occasionally appears in my dreams.

Two more places to see, nearby: The Fourth Avenue Methodist Church where I went to Sunday school and won first prize for my essay on Moses, and Dewey Junior High school further down Fourth Avenue. We couldn’t find the Norwegian Hospital where mom had sometimes worked as a nurse’s aide.

As Diane took some final pictures of an old, graffiti-covered wall, a woman passerby sneered at Diane accusing her of “slumming.” When Diane told her that we used to live here, the woman dropped her angry mask and merely uttered “Oh,” and moved away.

The taxi could not, for me, get back quickly enough across the bridge to Manhattan.

 

Stars

Imagine a young man, raised a city boy in San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Berkeley between the years 1937 and 1954. That’s me or was me. (Am I still that young man?).

The stars I saw through the urban atmosphere were relatively few and dim, although I was able to imagine more of them from having read picture books on astronomy and having visited planetariums in San Francisco and New York several times. Stars were mostly fictional places for me, from my avid reading of science fiction in my teen tears.

Being footloose after high school and not ready for college, or anything, it seemed at the time, I was strongly encouraged by my father to join the US Navy at age 17. I did. This was 1954.

After the usual basic training at U.S. Naval Training Center in San Diego (now a housing and recreation development), I was assigned to further training to be minimally competent aboard an aircraft carrier, then being upgraded at the now defunct US Naval Shipyard, Hunter’s Point, San Francisco.

Our ship was finally ready in mid-1955 for sea trials off the coast of California, from San Francisco to San Diego and back. There was the usual coastal fog and cloud cover, and I was busy learning to be a sailor aboard a vessel actually at sea, so I did not notice things like stars that lay beyond what needed my attention immediately at hand.

We eventually were ready for the regular trip from our home base at Alameda Naval Air Station (now defunct) to Japan and the Far East, via Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where “shapes” were brought aboard. Translate that as “nuclear weapons.”

The first leg of the trip, to Hawaii, was 2,400 miles. Steaming between 20 and 25 knots, 24 hours per day, this took less than a week. Our division was busy all this time, below decks—that is, not where we could see the sky.

After a week or so in “Pearl,” I was excited to know that within two weeks I would be in Japan. I was then age 19.

There was more leisure time now and, as an electronics technician, I had access to all parts of the ship. When I was not on duty or asleep, I would explore everywhere that was not “officer country” or restricted to those with the unnamed clearance that meant “nuclear.”

In the great western Pacific, midway between Hawaii and Japan, I had the watch duty ending at midnight. Before retiring to my bunk, I wandered the forward catwalks, just below the flight deck, for some fresh salt air.

There were no air operations that night, so I sat in a gun tub just below the level of the flight deck and observed this new universe without haste for the first time. At night the ship displays only red lights, to be invisible to passing ships and aircraft.

As I began to perceive the horizon that separated the vastness of the sea from the even greater vastness of the sky, it seemed as if I was about to be covered by a blanket of velvet in which there was an infinitude of holes through which the light of the universe was shining. My right hand involuntarily reached toward that blanket, trying to touch the soft velvet, to taste it with my fingers. My head seemed to merge with the blackness between the myriad points of light and I felt surrounded by the light of the universe.

I felt as if I was about to float along a stream of light points when I was jolted back to what passes for reality on earth by a harsh voice barking: “You got business out here, sailor?”

Mature Man Enjoys a Smoke- Part II

The words in the caption above present an obscure allusion, visible only to me until after I offer the reader an anecdote of the hours leading to the event alluded to.

2002-01-07-fred-at-dianes

Fred “burns one,” San Jose, California, 2002, representing Part I of “Mature Man Enjoys a Smoke”

The day started with a visit to the walk-in emergency medical facility at the Karolinska Hospital. They opened promptly at 8 A.M. I had had no breakfast, except, of course, coffee.

After questioning me, poking and prodding me, and extracting and examining some of my bodily fluids, the professionals at Karolinska said I needed a specialist at the Danderyd Hospital which is located around five English miles north, near the end of the Red Line of the Stockholm Subway system at Mörby Centrum. But, a taxi was provided for my use, at no direct charge, and I had a 30-minute window to get the day’s first nourishment before the taxi arrived at 12:10 PM. I purchased a lonely sandwich from the hospital cafeteria and ate it while waiting outside.

At Danderyd, bodily fluids were again offered and extracted, then a very long wait in a crowded, busy medical department until after dinner time when another professional poked and prodded and questioned. The conclusion: I was to get a CT Scan of my abdomen (it turned out ultimately to be some inflammation, easily dealt with).  More waiting. Finally, at around 9:30 PM, the scan was done, and I had at least an hour to wait until the results would be known. (It turned out to be four hours, but “that’s not important right now.”)

I took the opportunity to travel one station north to the last stop at Mörby Centrum to find food vendors that might be open at 10:00 PM. Few were, but Mörby Grillen was.

Mörby Grillen-1

Mörby Grillen

Now to the nut of this story.

I took my 150-gram hamburger, with its over-size sesame-seeded bun and a generous portion of pommes frites, to the seating area outside the grill where several tables and chairs were available.

It was a pleasantly cool evening with no discernible breeze. I sat and amazed myself by consuming the burger in short order. All the trimmings were included in it. Now sated, I attempted to address the “French fries.”

Seated at the next table was a man who captured my attention as I picked slowly at the frites. He reminded me of my late high school pal Fred, pictured above.

My first impression is that he was thoroughly enjoying his cigarette.  He sucked shallowly on it, looked at the remaining length of it, considered it closely, perhaps admiring it as an old companion (as Fred similarly did with his cigs), and then he took another drag, not hurrying this great pleasure.

His similarity to Fred seemed ever more apparent: Height, age, clothing, general manner, and posture. Fred would be my age now, 81, if he were still around; I regret deeply that he ain’t.

The man was around six feet tall, dressed neatly in tan/beige pants and a similarly colored light jacket, Fred’s usual attire when abroad (I couldn’t see the man’s shirt). He manner was that of a person not in a hurry. His posture was as erect as his upper back would allow (widower’s hump?); Fred also stood erectly.

Where this man differed from Fred in appearance is that he had a short, full beard, not too carefully trimmed, but not disorderly. Also, as he finished his meal of coffee and tobacco and started away, he moved with great care on joints that seemed reluctant to move quickly or fully.

I suddenly received the impression the man might have been a retired sailor, a merchant seaman or fisherman who use his body as well as his wits to accomplish his tasks. This is where Fred was different: he was avowedly sedentary unless confronted with an automobile or other machinery in need of mechanical or spiritual attention.

I imagined that this man, now having walked well away from me, and Fred, and I, could have had a good conversation, with stories to share and perceptions to confirm or debate. And, we could sit in silence with each other in the knowledge that we had seen much of the world and that only fellows our age could fully appreciate the depth and breadth of each other’s lives.

Words to Describe My Path  

When age fifty-eight I found myself, once again, at a crossroad in life. A constellation of major events had coincided to release me, temporarily, into the world, living alone and without a job.

Newly based in San Jose, California, I wandered, in a 1988 Honda for around a month throughout the US southwest. In Arizona, I met, separately, two people who were friends of a friend in the place I had just left. The first had the promise of a possible romance, the second was a place, near Kingman, to rest and recover.The romance didn’t ignite, so I traveled to Kingman.

Looking over the mountain forest from a spacious living room, I began to ponder my life’s path. I perceived recurring patterns. Try as I might, to go in direction A or B, I seemed always to revert to C.

After some thought-less viewing of the forest, I found myself at peace and wrote this:

Words to describe my path

To let go; to not-cling

To accept; things are as they are

To be open; to learn about the universe/my-“self”; to reveal the spirit residing within

To live simply

To nourish loving relationships

To create and maintain a private space

To contribute to useful processes

To avoid negative people and processes

I have revisited these words many times in the ensuing twenty-three years, just as I have this morning in Stockholm and find no reason to add to, or subtract from, what I wrote in Kingman more than two decades ago.

Now, enough of words, and back to the weekly laundry…