Category Archives: Writing

Day of Lost Souls (Part Two)


Peer Ratings and Mid-Selection
Mid selection was coming in that beautiful land, and before it arrived, I was fairly certain I would be one of the de-selectees.  I was also fairly certain McCreary would be.  Neither of us fit in.  We weren’t much like the others I thought would be deselected, but we were different.  We’d been through the Minnesota Multi-Phased Personality Test.  The rumor was you couldn’t even lie consistently on that one, except they could sniff you out, flush you like quail in the cool dawn.  I knew I was doomed.

The morning before selection time the staff added the final horror.  Humiliation and forced betrayal.  Peer ratings.

Question:  Here is a list of your fellow trainees.  Top to bottom, list the people you consider most equipped for the task of peace corpsman, down to least favorable.  Top to bottom, who do you like the most.  Down to who you like the least.  And so on.  Sell your young souls, trainees; young Americans…..won’t accept the papers back until you’ve listed them all, every white space above a black line filled with a name of someone here around you.

I was angry, watching 80 eyes probe the room, checking names against faces.  I worked out my own strategy, locking eyes, whenever I could.  I reversed the list they wanted.  Picked the weakest and least liked for my Ajax and Penelope.  Threw the leaders to the dogs.  With my own name at the pinnacle, of course.  But I knew it was futile.

De-selection and Jumping Ship in Honolulu
Still, I was crushed when my name came out on the list of get-outs.  I didn’t notice how the others reacted, and I don’t remember much about the time between the boot and the airplane.  I do know that somewhere in there, I decided I wasn’t going back to the mainland.  Somewhere in there David also decided something similar.

The rain was falling sideways when we got off the plane in Honolulu.  Big Joe Weiss, Korean War marine was with us on the plane to Oahu.  He listened to our dreams talked quietly of staying in the islands with us.  He was as crushed as I was about being given the shove.  But in the terminal building, he couldn’t look at either of us as he told us he was going on to the mainland.  I could see that big Joe was limping inside, hurting.  Maybe worse than I was, with all my bravado.

David and I had some kind of notion about catching a sailing boat, heading for Australia or New Zealand.  We had a couple of hundred bucks each, guts, energy, and no promises to keep.  We’d signed on for a two year stint in Injia, and Injia had belched us back like a bolus flying out the mouth of someone who’s just had the Heimlich performed unexpectedly in the middle of a dying incident.

We spent a few precious bucks on a taxicab…..told the driver we wanted the cheapest hotel he knew of.  It was the Huna Hotel, he took us to.  Twelve bucks a night.  But we were young in that country.

The rain continued through the night, and we emerged from the room still full of energy and bravado….we were taking big steps, making deep tracks in our future lives…..we thought we were about to make big tracks on the land.
Picked up a newspaper looking for boarding houses……David found one belonging to a Japanese lady named Matsushige….he wrote down the address as I looked over his shoulder….wrote on the classified page of the newspaper…..2323 East Manoa Road.

We took a city bus, carrying our bags, our belongings from the dead peace corps experience, and got off at the confluence of east Manoa and Manoa.  The driver pointed a direction for us.

But at 2323, our knock was answered by a man who appeared to be dressed in a pair of WWII Japanese uniform trousers.  He explained curtly that he didn’t know what the hell we wanted, didn’t want to know.  Didn’t appreciate our disturbing his home, his morning. We walked to Manoa and looked….nothing made any sense.

So, we found a pay phone and David called the number from earlier…..wrote 2319 on the newspaper.  Hung up the phone, turned puzzled from the booth.  “Twenty twee twenty twee?”  I burst out in laughter every time I thought of that incident for more than three decades.  I can still see him turning puzzled from the booth, frowning, “Twenty twee twenty twee?”

Matsushige’s Boarding House, Finding Work and a Gypsy Good Time
We settled in at Matsushige’s that day, a second floor room with two bunks, 4 feet or so apart, parallel, a desk between the two at the head.   Shared john with some other roomers….settled in young, full of bravado, full of dreams.

Next day we went looking for work and such.  David took a paper and headed down to check out the openings on Waikiki…..I headed for the bars on hotel street, looking for a job or a hooker to fix me up for my job search.  I’d go down to Waikiki tomorrow to  find my busboy job at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  Today, more pressing matters.

In a while, I came to a booth with a pretty gypsy lady…..started flirting a bit, talking around the issue.  Was pretty certain she was a hooker.  Finally, “You want a gypsy good-time?” she demanded.
“Yeah!  A gypsy goodtime!”
She took me into an attached room with nothing but a cot, sat me down.  “$10″….she took my money and assured she’d be back in a moment.  I sat there and knew when she brought in a snaggle toothed crone that I’d just lost a sawbuck for another of my lessons in life.

“Here it is!  A gypsy goodtime!”  She and the crone danced back and forth in front of me, all of us laughing.  My life has been rich in gypsy goodtimes, I’ve been a man wealthy in gypsy goodtimes, but that one was best in those times when the coconuts fell beside us and mangos piled high under the trees blocking the sidewalks and David and I grumbled in our cots picking off sunburned skin to throw to the giant roaches.  We were young in that country.

Final Selection – Dropouts and Volunteers – Honolulu
We stayed in touch with a few of the trainees on the big island.  Lillie and I wrote and sometimes talked by phone.  We made plans, after final selection to meet in Oahu, whether she went on to India or not.  Nancy Philson and Priscilla Thomas came through a few days ahead, voluntarily dropped from the venture.  An evening of drunken revelry on hotel street and they were off to the future.

I met Lillie at the airport with the other triumphant survivors.  Chianti, baby gouda cheese, and a rented jeep, and we made long and easy love on the beaches in sight of Chinamans Hat, Hanauma Bay, the blowhole, toward the end, pounding surf spraying the moonlight.  Her red hair tickled my face as we idled the jeep down the inland spine of Oahu, back to Honolulu.

Next night, the gin mills of Honolulu and Hotel Street.  Lillie’d never seen a stripper….I took her to a place I’d been a few nights previously with Nancy and Priscilla.  The best I’d ever seen, her veils of blue velvet, blue chiffon.

They boarded the plane, and India X was off to save the world from hunger, from savage restraints, from a historic dearth of fowl in their diets.  Off to Gujarat.

Back to the Big Island – The Jungle and Solitude
In a while, I flew back to the big island and went into the jungle off the Kohala range, thinking to become a hermit, thinking to die there.  David met a Japanese Hawaiian girl named Janice and flew back to the mainland with her.
In six weeks I came out of the jungle, in a maelstrom of roiling greyblue clouds.  I’d met myself for the first time.  I finally had seen myself, seen god in that quiet forest.  I knew I had more to do.

David’s kids, when he was in the marine corps, and after came to be among my favorite children….Janice, an object of my deep respect.

This year, she left him for a Japanese man.  David’s in Seattle, trying to find what he should do with his life, henceforth. Searching for the greatest gypsy good-time of them all.

And I await the moment I’ll go again into the woods as I did so many years ago beneath a savage sky in that country of youth and springtime.

Life’s a strange place for a human being to have to spend a lifetime.” Josephus Minimus

Day of Lost Souls (Part One)

Today and tomorrow’s post (part two) is a short story that was written many years ago. We had decided it was too long for the blog, even in two parts,  but since many of our readers are also writers,  I think you won’t mind the length.  ~Jeanne

Blue on blue, I tunneled through tints and shades of airy void  from the New Mexico desert to arrive in San Francisco several hours ahead of my outbound rendezvous.  The old DC3 clubbed the air dizzy and crawled over the unconscious body getting me to the coast; hammered the molecules of blue air into something solid as ice to hold man and machine aloft and skim across the bumpy surface.

In some other reality pilots and navigators of the heavens probably do spectra-soundings of color and hue, the way old mariners sounded the nighttime and foggy channel bottoms sampling with buckets to fix their positions by mud color, or sand, or shells.  These sky mariners in the elsewhere examine the debris in the  buckets and ponder;  arid Southwest: almost turquoise.  Inland California:  grey blue.  Coastal: yellow hazy blue.  But that was 1964.  Perhaps the atmosphere has grayed these intervening years, the way my own mustache, eyebrows, and hair has shifted to bare metal silver.

San Francisco
But we were young in that country.  The November 9, 1964, San Francisco airport terminal teemed with us. We milled around the gate that Sunday awaiting our flight to Hawaii.  Ten more days and I’d be a full 21, a legal man.  Full of mature, critical appraisal I skulked the waiting area; studied the rosy cheeks and sunny attitudes; the strapping young adults I knew I’d spend the next piece of my life among.  Though some carried more years, I thought to myself they were mostly kids.

I watched those youngsters straight-on for a while, until they noticed.  Then I shifted and gazed covertly at the reflections from the plate glass window/wall shielding us from the din of steel-gray planes and scorching ash-gray runways cut by yellow stripes threading the distant taxiways to vanish in the heatwaves and hazy yellowblue skies.  I pretended to read my book and scrutinized my soon to be companions out of the corners of my eyes; strained to hear the dribble of their conversations which each seemed to say, “I’m a neat person.  I’m worthy of this.”  Some, I could surmise, tacitly agreed to allow certain others to be as neat as themselves.

We were an elite, the acceptance letter implied.  Only one of every forty applicants, the letter whispered, were accepted for the intensive preparation to save the poor in hungry backward lands.  We were all riding on the bobsled thrill of those flattering words.  As a result the fast pulsebeat of waiting in the terminal became a political caucus.  Probably most of us figured those others were likely to be awfully special, but secretly believed they made a mistake in letting our particular selves in.

The candidates talked films; of Viradiana, of Antonioni, of Fellini and of a swede who made foreign films in those days. Of existentialism.  Talked about the beatnik poets.  All so serious.    What’s your major?  Where did you get your degree?   I pondered the words, scowling to myself.

I could see these mostly weren’t my kind of folks.  I’d scraped and cheated to get a high school diploma several years earlier, did three years in the army.  Hitch-hiked across the country several times, been in jail more than once.  Sweated under a blazing sky in dozens of hellish jobs that didn’t carry any prestige in these circles of toy-people, I thought, who were going off to India to teach the native how to raise chickens.  Bouncing off through rainbow skies bearing the weight of the white man’s burden to teach a culture older than our God how to raise poultry.  But we were young in that country.

I felt uncomfortable in my snazzy dark suit with narrow lapels. My only suit.  It had been the leading edge of fashion when I bought it for $20 a couple of years earlier in Boston.  The pencil thin blue tie with gold flecks felt awful on my neck, and worse as I became conscious of the width of ties the others were wearing.

Trainees impressing one another
As the morning wore into early afternoon more of the India X peace corps trainees filtered in the waiting area from incoming flights, draining the rest of the country of heroes…..I hung around alone and tried to guess which were trainees, and which were just transients.  I gazed at the women who were obvious volunteers, wondering whether any peace corps taboos would stand between me and female companionship during the next few months.  I idly checked out the prospects, most of whom didn’t bear up under a lot of scrutiny.  Rules of training could make for a long dry spell, and the fraternity boys were already busy staking out their campsites among the curly haired goldiloxes of the crew.
Eventually, I noticed a lean, freckle-faced red-headed Irish looking chap hanging around watching, same as I was……he wasn’t mingling with the other selectees much, and he appeared gangling and awkward.  I smiled to myself, musing, probably feeling superior, just as I felt somehow superior to all these fresh-scrubbed college folks, off to slum among the huddled masses.  McCreary,  I learned, was his name.  David McCreary.  At that moment I  watched, listened to, studied a future friend for life for the first time.

Strangely vacant blue-eyed, lanky, ruddy faced and scarlet haired, a lady schoolmarm from Virginia caught my focus.  I heard her tell someone she was an English teacher.  Lillie Rogers.  Lillie Belle Rogers, I learned later.  No raving beauty, but a touch of class, presence, bearing.  Straight and tall.  I sensed an underlying tinge of bitterness in her manner.  Sometime later it came to mind, and in some ways, a female counterpart to McCreary.  There among all the others, I didn’t sense that Lillie would be the lady of this group I’d come to know best.  I’d have rejected that notion, then.  Lillie Belle Rogers.  A long, sensuous neck ahead of Nancy Philson and  Priscilla Thomas in a dead heat.  Women I wouldn’t have picked for myself that day in the San Francisco airport, but in a few weeks, the training gave everyone a chance to show their mettle.  Or their fluff.  For those three and a few others, it was bare, polished metal.

The flight to Oahu was long…..I was seated next to a tough blonde named Georgia Grover…..nice humor, vaguely pretty, and I began laying what I hoped was groundwork for later.  Foundations for things to come which never came.

Arrival in Honolulu
When eventually we arrived on the islands the alienation I felt was already rising.  I didn’t like a lot of folks in those days, and I could tell I mostly wasn’t going to like these.  The chaos leaving the main terminal created visible stress among the chosen.  We had half a mile or so to walk to the Hawaiian Airlines Terminal and the next jump to the big island.  No transportation for the bags.  An early test.

The husky young college gentlemen struggled with their own bags and staggered in macho competition to help the attractive ladies.  Mr. and Mrs. Eebie, the elderly retired couple of the group shuffled along behind with the jaded males and less attractive females while the girly girls and ex-twirlers chattered across the tarmac admiring the white man and his burden.  Georgia Grover shrugged away the offers of help and shouldered her own bags.  Most likely, Lillie Rogers, Priscilla Thomas, and Nancy Philson never had the offer.

Hilo Training Center
During the next weeks the time passed quickly;…..language lessons, chicken house made from lava rock passed down hand to hand, chopping sugarcane in the fields for the thatched roof, a walking bridge made from downed palm trees, formal exercise, poultry disease classes, inoculations against the diseases of the distant east.  I gradually came to know the other trainees, and they, me.  I gradually found a few  worthy of respect.

Somehow we found time to frolic in bluegreen waters under the bluewhite waterfall.  We climbed the nearby cliffs and gazed into the swift discharge.

And late one afternoon I found myself with Lillie whispering from a cradle of limbs in a huge banyan tree near the falls; lips brushing ear and neck to be heard above the cascading clamor of falling water.  Forms and futures swirled in clouds studied through a break in the green umbrella.

One afternoon in a distance run, I began jogging beside the redhead, David.  We outdistanced the whole crowd on a ten mile run, came in long before the rest.  Found we weren’t appreciated for our efforts.  Evidently it was intended to be something of a fellowship, team thing.  The whole affair on the big island was a distance run, and David and I were already far behind.

That night, David and I went into Hilo and had a few beers, exchanging a few dreams, disappointments, and observations about the place and the people.  We were young in that country.

Housekeeping

Hi everyone, Jeanne here. Please bear with me while I make a few comments on the status of things here at So Far From Heaven.

First of all, the blog site isn’t going away. I’m sure Jules will post from time to time, but he’s also relieved to have made the decision to post only when he feels the urge without any dedication to a schedule. So, less stress, fewer posts, but not going away. If you’re not already signed up for email notifications, you might consider it. I’ve certainly found it helpful on other blog sites that I follow.

I have permission to post some other things that Jules has written in the past, some items from previous blogs, poetry, some pieces from other projects. I would appreciate your feedback about this idea. I suspect I am biased about his writing and don’t have enough distance from the situation to really know whether our followers  want to see anything “old” or just wait for something current.

For anyone who wants a daily dose of Old Jules’ writing, please visit  Ask Old Jules, where you are still welcome to ask questions there through the comments.  Although I only post one question and answer per day, there is a lot of variety and randomness from day to day that you might enjoy.  The Facebook page So Far From Heaven: Ask Old Jules will also continue with shorter q/a posts more appropriate to the Facebook format.

We’re very gratified that at this point we’ve got a nice solid core of dedicated readers. I’m also following a lot of nice people that I never knew existed, and intend to keep doing so. We appreciate all the responses we’ve had so far and look forward to continuing in the same vein although not with the same frequency.

Until next time,
Jeanne

The Ask Old Jules Blog

Jeanne’s migrating the Ask Old Jules feature from Facebook to a blog to be linked to this one.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Facebook thing, here’s what it’s all about.

Several years ago I used to amuse myself between doing other things by answering questions on a Question/Answer site.  Over the years I somehow managed to build up 13,000 answers to every sort of question imaginable, many of which were inappropriate or off-the-wall enough to forever have them banning me from the site.

I’d send them an apology promising never to do it again, they’d restore my membership, and in no time at all some pencil-necked stuffed-up questioner would report me again and get me banned.  But while all this was going on, Jeanne was religiously copying and pasting the stuff, saving it for her own incomprehensible reasons.

When this blog came to being and nobody was reading it Jeanne decided to use some of the more inane Q/As in her files on Facebook to point people towards the blog.  But a lot of the Q/As were too long to post on Facebook, so eventually the choice was to drop them entirely, or to continue them on a blog.

She’s been working like an illegal alien or some foreigner setting it up, putting some of her art work as headers, generally creating a pleasant blog site.  Her thought is that people reading it might wish to participate by asking questions there.  I welcome any avenue providing me more opportunities along the lifelong journey of discovery to discover what I think.  Especially in an environment where I’m less likely to be banned than was the case in that other Q/A thing.

So beginning February 1st the Ask Old Jules blog will be up and running.  A link will show up in the blogroll. All the old archives from the whatchacallit, Facebook one, will also be stored there if you want to have a look-see to get an idea what she was doing.

Old Jules

Note from Jeanne: Posts here on So Far From Heaven will continue as usual when Old Jules and WordPress are cooperating with each other.
At this time posts are scheduled on Ask Old Jules for Wednesdays and Sundays. That might change depending on participation.  Comments are  welcome as usual, but if you ask a question, it might be used (without your name) as a new blog entry with an answer.
Shorter Ask Old Jules entries will still show up on Facebook from time to time.
And here’s some Leonard Cohen that I’m fond of, even if he’s not singing:

Elvis Presley Blues

The King Is Dead
Long Live The King

Behold, sweet sovereign of song,
creator, keeper, carrion king
of Rock and Roll,
how we miss you.

Old now, my liege, how we hum
how we whistle distant echoes
of your reign
and remember!

Not for you, sweet prince,
mediocre marble monuments,
bronze busts in barren halls.

How you were us!
How, in your dotage,
your swollen jowl,
your sallow cheeks,
your leaden eye
became our own.

Not for you, the canvas likeness hung on walls
with saints, small children, gods and golden men.
Not you!
For you, lord, the paper likeness,
the image on black velour;
in plaster lamps,
plastic icons,
and now this final homage
to your fiery youth.

With every moist touch of these lips, this tongue
we wash away the mucous of those later years
of yours and ours;
summon forth the young prince;
call back those vibrant times
of yesteryear
when the bud shot forth from the vine
and you emerged
and we emerged.

Every touch, sweet prince, to brush away
the bloated darkness of those later
aftertimes
and stay the past within this tiny,
glossy image forth.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

Old Jules
©NineLives Press

Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter – Book Review

[With the exception of Brighton Rock] I’ve never read a book by Graham Greene I didn’t consider worth tucking away for at least one future reading.  I encountered The Heart of the Matter too late in life to feel any confidence I’ll live long enough to enjoy this one again, but that’s the result of the aging process, not the book.  It will be there with the others still waiting if I kick before I get around to it again.

Set in an imaginary West African British colony early during WWII, The Heart of the Matter is vaguely reminiscent of  Maugham’s Ashenden series in some ways, Of Human Bondage, in others, with a touch of Heart of Darkness thrown in for seasoning.  Scobie, the aging, passed-over-for-promotion Deputy Commissioner of Police, is the primary character and the only European character in the book who loves Africa and wants nothing more than to remain there his entire life.

However, his wife, Louise, hates it, bludgeons him with his lack of upward mobility, harnesses his kindness and determination to avoid causing her pain even though there’s no love left between them, and tortures him with guilt.  She frequently declares tearfully he doesn’t love her and draws his assurances, “Of course I love you.”

The native population loves his unique respect and fairness in the execution of his duties whenever the individuals are not involved in crime.  When they are involved they despise him for identical reasons.  The Indian and Syrian merchants and Neutral Nation Shipping and Smuggling concerns mostly just would rather he could be bribed or tricked into seeming to be vulnerable to bribes.

Through this tightening stricture of War, Colonial idiosyncracies, needy personal relationships, and intrigue Greene threads Scobie’s strait-jacketed life along a complex and interesting plot worthy of far more well-known and durable writers.

I’d suggest readers who’ve only been exposed to Brighton Rock might find themselves surprised to discover in The Heart of the Matter that Greene is a writer they want more of.  Same as so many other of Greene’s works.

Old Jules

November 22, 1963

C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series of kid books and the Screwtape Letters died.  He was also a middling good science fiction writer.  I always enjoyed his work and consider him an important writer within his area of interest. 

At the time of his death I didn’t hear about it because Aldous Huxley died the same day and got most of the fanfare.

Huxley’s Brave New World was all the rage at the time, one of those books young intellectuals all asked one another whether they’d read, and of course they all answered, “Yeah, wasn’t it great?” whether they’d read it or not.

Overall I believe Lewis has stood the test of time better than Huxley, but we can’t go back and give Lewis a better funereal showing at this late date, so I just figured I’d mention it here.

Old Jules