Tag Archives: youth

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.

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Did You Ever Fake Reading a Book?

The e-newsletter  Shelf Awareness  occasionally includes author interviews where a standard question is “What book have you faked reading?”   This brought to mind something I can tell  now because I don’t think they can take my high school diploma back from me.

When we students who began school in the first half of the 20th Century in Portales, New Mexico entered Junior High in 1957, they explained a lot of what we had to get done during the next few years if we wanted to graduate from high school. If those years passed and we hadn’t done each thing on the list we’d be pumping gas the remainder of our lives.

Among the various academic requirements was Major Book Report every year. I didn’t see this as a problem up front. I was a heavy reader and couldn’t imagine a deadline arriving on that one without me nailing it in plenty of time.

But somehow the 8th or 9th grade came along and spang, there I was, with Mrs. Wilbanks standing before the class announcing day-after-tomorrow our big book reports were due. Suddenly I was in a panic. I’d read plenty of books, but none that came to mind as qualifying for a big book report. Those normally had to be cleared with the teacher ahead of time, which somehow slipped by me for one reason or another.

I don’t know what made me decide to invent a book that didn’t exist.  It seems insane all these decades later.  But I suppose  I concluded I just hadn’t read any Big Books after I went to the library and saw the lists of the ones other kids had been thumbing through and dogearing.

But I got out my Esterbrook fountain pen with the turquoise ink and set to work inventing a Big Book I’d read.  “Chessman”, by Borden Deal .  It was a good book and I regret Borden Deal never wrote it.  I turned in the book report on time and sighed thinking I’d cheated death one more time.

A few days later Mrs. Wilbanks brought the graded book reports in and prepared to pass them back, but she cautioned us to just look at the grades and corrections, then hand them back in.  They’d go into our permanent files with our other Big Book Reports until we graduated High School.

Then she pulled out a book report from the stack I could recognize from my desk near the back of the room.  Sloppy, turquoise handwriting on yellow paper.

I don’t give A+ on Big Book Rep0rts, but I’ve made an exception this time.”  She lighted up the room with her smile and gestured toward me with it while I sank into my seat.  “I believe this might be the best Big Book Report ever written by one of my students.”

Knowing that book report was up there hanging over my head as evidence bothered me a lot.  When I left Portales and headed for another school my 11th year, I hoped they’d let me carry my records so I could snag it, but it wasn’t to be.  Next year I changed schools again and again didn’t get an opportunity to steal it back.

Not until I graduated in 1961 did I again get my hands on my Big Book Report on “Chessman”, by Borden Deal.  I packed it away with all my other important papers and kept it until Y2K, when it went into the fire after one last read.

If you haven’t read the book I recommend you write it.  It’s a winner.

Old Jules


The Coasters – Charlie Brown
http://youtu.be/dS9sOCRH3MU

Learn a New Language with YouTube


Hi blogsters:

I rarely talk to young people, though I’ll confess to craftily observing them when I can, watching their interactions reflected in a plate-glass window, sneakily watching them at another table in a restaurant, trying to hear and understand what they’re saying.

The problem is, mostly I can’t understand what they’re saying.  As the years have progressed I’ve noticed that, even in convenience stores and fast-food joints I often can’t understand the simplest thing that’s being spoken.  I tilt my head, ask them to repeat, explain I’m a bit hard of hearing and ask them to repeat again, and finally usually give up and just smile and nod ‘yes’ if that seems it might be appropriate.

I don’t believe it’s entirely my hearing doing this.  I think there’s something new and different going on with language, but more importantly, inside the heads of people who sound as though words should be spoken through a mouth full of something, and really fast.

Mostly I don’t have a clue.  Frequently my curiosity taunts me.  I don’t know who these people are.  I don’t know what, nor how, they think.  To me it would be easy to merely mutter to myself, these kids are incredibly stupid, illiterate, and so whacked-out on television and public school brainwashing it’s a wonder they can function at all.

But I’m trying to insist to myself that the human race hasn’t truly devolved all that much in only a couple of generations.  These aren’t subhumans, though it would be easy to conclude they are, based on a lot of their mannerisms and behaviors in public.  I think these creatures probably think and feel, but that they don’t express those thoughts and feelings in ways that allow me to fathom them.

Enter, the blessing of YouTube.  When they aren’t too long, it rarely takes more than half-hour download on my dial-up.  But it’s a chance to actually decipher something one of those people thinks, feels and expresses, in a way that bypasses the mouth full of marbles and the speed with which the words come to the fore.  Once it’s downloaded it can be repeated until near-understanding arrives.

Old Jules

Steve Goodman– Talk Backwards [Edit: hope one of these links will work better]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMSMAjg2zCU

http://youtu.be/AMSMAjg2zCU

(Cee Lo Green) “Fuck You” sign language performance
http://youtu.be/sv3tadz5Q3o

Note: Thanks to Monique Maes for her photo.
http://moniquemaes.tumblr.com/
http://www.reverbnation.com/teapartyseance