The Lady is a Tramp

Hurricane Irma Does Florida

9/11/2017

Click to read an interactive pdf account of my tryst with Irma

 

 

 

 

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I Was Young Once

Found some old yellowed newspaper clippings from more than 50 years ago, and was delighted to remember that I was once a fair-to-middling athlete.

– click to enlarge –

That young hooligan after an undisciplined magic-carpet tumble through life is almost 74 years old now. See for yourself if the old coot still has any game left.

🙂 🙂 🙂

Lois & Liz

Another excerpt from Volume II of my memoir-in-progress, Blood Rain.

 

For someone allergic to work, it was the perfect job. Metal cabinets flush with stationary, pens and pencils, typewriter ribbons, whiteout. A sleek IBM Selectric on every desk. Xerox machine. Piped in FM music. Black leather couch in the President’s office for naps and trysts. Thick reclining chairs in the new car showroom for comfy reading.

I had the run of Colonial Dodge on the graveyard shift, no supervisor. The expectation was that in the wee hours Jessica and I would shoo thieves and vandals away from acres of new cars and trucks out on the lot. Fat chance! Most nights I would punch in on my timecard at 11 o’clock, go out hootin’ ‘till ‘last call’ at two in the morning, then plop myself next to a typewriter back at the Dealership until dawn.

After a night on the town playing hooky from work I always stopped by the Ranch House for a double-shot of coffee. The girls all knew me. Lois was sitting at the counter and since my regular booth was teeming with rowdies I swung my butt up next to her on a vacant stool. There was a Bic lighter and pack of Kool Menthols between us and she reached over and nudged them aside, which I took as a welcoming gesture.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” I said.

Lois rolled her eyes and three-fingered a wayward tuft of mousey-brown hair back behind her ear but didn’t say anything. She was off the clock, not wearing her usual crisp white uniform, perched primly on a wobbly stool with her knees pressed close together and her legs crossed modestly at the ankles. Graveyard shifts mess with sleep rhythms and it was not unusual for her to be here on a night off.

“How was your trip to New Jersey?” I asked, remembering that she had driven up there for a few days.

“I, uh . . .” She glanced furtively side to side like she was afraid someone was eavesdropping, lowered her voice. “I don’t know, I’m not sure I was there.”

“What?”

“I mean, uh . . . I went to Jersey but I only remember like maybe a few hours or so of the entire trip.”

“Trippin’, huh?”

“I don’t do drugs . . . It’s like, uh, I was there, lookin’ through my own eyes, but like I wasn’t there also.”

“Not there?”

“It wasn’t me that was there.”

Lois fidgeted. Her body tensed. She seemed torn between a primal need to talk and the impulse to run and hide.

“I, uh, I’m not working here anymore, ya know?”

“You quit?”

“I got fired . . . At least, that’s what they tell me, I don’t remember exactly.”

I swiveled toward her on my stool but she would only glance at me out of the corner of her eye. She tucked the hem of her skirt tighter under her legs and smoothed another strand of hair back into place. She started to reach for a cigarette but then didn’t.

“I’ve got to go see a shrink,” she said. “You don’t know a cheap one, do you?”

I laughed, the image of a black leather couch back at the office suddenly flashing through my mind. “I used to be a counselor,” I said, “before I dropped out and hit the road. Worked with delinquent kids.” But Lois wasn’t listening. She had slipped into a monologue addressed to a half-empty cup of coffee, occasionally tilting her head and looking askance as if someone else was sitting on her stool.

“My problem, the reason I can’t keep a job . . . is, I lose control. Sometimes I don’t feel like coming to work and it’s, like, the next day before I call in. I don’t know where I’ve been, can’t explain myself. Or I clock in and they tell me I had several customer complaints last night, insulted people. And I don’t remember.”

“Yeah, I give in to deeper impulses too. Sneaked away and went to The Blinker tonight, closed down the bar. One of these days all the new cars gonna disappear off the lot while I’m AWOL. Fired? They’ll probably jack me up and hotwire me.”

“No, that’s different.” She looked down at herself, thrust her hands in the prayer position between her legs and squirmed. “It’s not me doing this. Sometimes I look in the mirror and it’s not me looking back.”

“Too many Margaritas? Lose track of time, blackouts?”

“No – it’s like, uh, like when they put the wires in the . . . and the microphones on me . . . and they strapped ’em to my body and they wanted me to go down and talk to this guy because you see he hadn’t done anything yet that was against the law but I had to get, uh, I had to get his, his voice, on record. And that’s not me that was doing that. I saw me on Court TV, up on the witness stand, and it wasn’t me.”

Lois shivered and started massaging her temporal lobes with urgent fingers. “You got any aspirin?”

I walked over to the cashier and bought some Tylenol. When I got back she was spinning around on her stool with a gleam in her eyes and mischief on her face.

“I ran over her cat the other day,” she said, “Vet had to zonk the little fucker.”

Your cat, you mean?”

“No, Lois’s. All it did was sit and lick its balls which weren’t none there, she had ‘em chopped off!

She swung around again until our knees were touching. “Hi,” she said, her lips parted in a crooked grin. “I’m Liz. Lois has a hissy when I come out cuz she knows I like to party. All tied up in knots, she is, afraid of men, scared of living. Me . . . let’s just say I do enough guys for both of us. I love it when she wakes up with ooze between her legs or Vaseline up her dookie chute and doesn’t know who I straddled last night.”

I watched her light up a cigarette and vigorously shake her hair loose from behind her ears. “You’re, uh . . . not Lois?” I asked.

“Me? I’m Lois’ worst nightmare. I’m her headaches and forbidden thoughts. She tell you ‘bout her blackouts? That’s Liz unleashed, rockin’ in the free world. I got her fired, too, told that bitch old lady what to do with them eggs she complained were too runny, ‘Eat ‘em or shove ‘em sunny side up,’” I said. “Lois doesn’t remember but she’ll waitress again somewhere, nobody checks references anymore . . . That’s all she can do, lacks imagination, hides from the world and what kind of life is that? I got plans, maybe move to California, LA, make it in the movies. Fuck if I don’t have years of experience being someone else! Speakin’ of references . . .”

She had kicked off her shoes and I felt her toes tickling my leg, climbing higher.

“You ain’t had nothin’ chopped off, have ya?”

 

 

 

Janet & Her Waterbed

Another excerpt from Volume II of my memoir-in-progress, Blood Rain.

 

“I suppose you should pay for the first one just to make it look good,” Janet says as she rings up 35 cents for my beer.

I gulp it down to quell the five o’clock rumble in my gut.

The Wheelhouse is a local working-class bar in Gulfport on an inland waterway half way between downtown St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Mexico, one of my many stops when cruising around town with nothing to do. I may shoot a game or two of pool but I don’t socialize much, sit off to myself unless I’m on the make.

“Are you hungry? Do you want to order and then I’ll patch you up a ticket?” Janet often chides me for not letting her know when I’m broke and hungry.

“What’s that, ‘patch up a ticket’?”

“I write it up and then cover the amount with beer money from others. The next few dollars I take in I put in the register but don’t ring up. That way there’s extra money in the till to cover your food.”

“Cheeseburger: lettuce, tomato, mayo . . . onions & pickles.”

She picks up my two or three coins from the counter, rattles the cash register, then returns the exact same amount as ‘change’ along with another frosty glass of beer with a thin layer of foam creeping over the rim.

Janet has frisky red hair and pale sandpapery skin that belies a soft romantic spirit behind sparkling blue-green eyes. She chats one-on-one with each customer as she works the long U-shaped bar from one end to the other, finessing egos and stoking desire. She can turn a man’s worm when she grabs your hand and holds it up to the light to plumb a jagged lifeline. And if she leans over the bar with glassy eyes and quivering breasts you know she is about to have a chat with a previous you from centuries past.

At fifteen minutes-to-two the lights blink ‘last call’ and I stumble outside with a full belly and a six-pack of Old Milwaukee to go. The air is damp and muggy and like Boca Ciega bay two blocks South, my body fluids are at high tide.

Sliding into the driver’s seat of my VW I feel sharp jabs poke me in the butt and immediately realize the inside is littered with broken glass. I don’t see Jessica at first and start to panic but then find her curled up sound asleep in the back. I can envision how she must have barked at a stranger who took offense and smashed the window with a tire iron. Jessica is my only companion and with the same uncontrollable rage of a father protecting his daughter, I would have killed that asshole in a heartbeat.

Janet walks over after closing down and locking up the bar, gives me a long warm hug and tells me to follow her home. A rollicking sympathy fuck on her waterbed almost makes me seasick and I can feel the heavy dose of mayonnaise on my greasy burger churning like a riptide in my gut.

When the waves of passion have subsided Janet lights up a cigarette for both of us. I sense that this post-fuck quiet time is more important to her than an orgasm. Her little back-alley cottage reeks of incense and memorabilia. A framed picture of a young man with curly hair and a bushy mustache astride a dirt bike sits on a chest of drawers surrounded by ceramic owls, glass unicorns, menacing gargoyles and smiling guardian angels.

“I felt it the instant it happened.”

“Your husband?”

“28th lap at the Devil’s Bowl Speedway on the last leg of the summer Motocross circuit. It was my day off and I was walking on the beach, suddenly I froze. My skin tingled and my toes curled. I screamed and fell to my knees. In a flash I saw his crumpled bike and mangled body. Richard’s neck like the handlebars was twisted at an impossible angle. When I got home there was a message but I knew already.”

“How long ago?”

“Twelve years. I still keep his birthday present wrapped in the closet.”

“No plans to move on with someone else?”

“We were swingers and enjoyed an open marriage. Michael liked me to coax young boys into a three-way, what a thrill to initiate a slender hairless cock into the joys of sex. You want to try it sometime?”

“I don’t have a thing for boys.”

Janet rolled over on top of me and we rode the sympathy waves in her waterbed again. Just as I whitewashed her insides she whispered, “You should meet my daughter and my mom, we’ve all slept with the same guy before.”

 

The Tarpon Bar at 8am

In the cracked and peeling mirror behind the bar I caught a glimpse of myself under the hypnotically revolving clock. I had slipped into journal mode and was out on a tangent astride an asymptote again. Stalking suspicious-looking characters and unfettering your imagination to create dialogue and back stories is addictive. And, like flat-lining, a dangerous Faustian wager. Your senses flare to white like the dying gasp of a distant star and the festering moment you seek to know from the inside out suddenly implodes. The subjective you becomes a tangible object in your own narrative and both the me and the not-me disappear into a black hole.

CAUTION

  1. Don’t bother to read this excerpt from Volume II of my memoir, too boring.
  2. I only write to revisit some of the me’s I used to be before I get too old to remember, not to entertain.
  3. Spend your precious time on what’s more important, your own writing.

Some mornings I wake up with a metaphysical hard-on and invariably find myself downtown prowling the streets, fists clenched.

Spindled silhouettes trundle along like Giacometti stick-figures. Zilches with vacant stares sit silently on green benches, thoughts picked bare by the hideous screech of gulls, the irritating chatter of pigeons, the monotonous hum of traffic. Manikins painted and perfumed, colors dripping and gathering in shapeless puddles on slippery sidewalks, flash smug smiles under dime store bonnets. Midget, rump perched squat at an angle over tree-trunk thighs, waddles crotch-high from john to john, feisty cunt awash with grownup desire. Limps, canes, crutches, metal walkers, wheelchairs. Torso with stumps for legs squats on a skateboard peddling the daily news. Puffy grotesque face with scrunched eyes, no pupils, trips over the curb while tap-tap-tapping with a white cane. Pencil-thin man in British racing cap pulled low stumbles toward a bench and says to no one in particular, “I’m just going to sit right here.” Adjusting warped wire-rimmed glasses he adds, “It’s a long time this waiting thing, isn’t it?

A kaleidoscope of stink and regret, a cesspool of shattered dreams and broken promises. I catch sight of my reflection in a store window and know why mothers jerk their daughters across the street when they see me coming.

A mix of stragglers as I round the corner fidget on the sidewalk waiting for the Tarpon Bar to open. Slim teeters on the edge of the curb, shivering.  High-Heeled Sally pulls out a small pink compact and begins to apply too much makeup.  Cotton Boy scratches at scabs on the inside of his elbows with nervous fingers.

No one speaks.

When the door is unlocked at 8am I slip in behind them and snatch a stool at the end of the bar. I need breathing room and an unobstructed view. More and more I find myself drawn to the voyeuristic art of watching and listening.

It’s hallowed ground, a bar is, first thing when it opens in the morning. Rank with lingering smoke and stale beer but quiet with the TV on mute while regulars nurse hangovers and silently rehash their yesterdays. Most know to leave you alone until a fresh buzz kicks in and you’ve mustered the wherewithal to tackle a new day.

“Where you git that green-ass combat shirt, man?” a squeaky voice suddenly whispers in my ear. “At the dime store?” 

 I jerk and spin around on my stool, my hand drifting toward the jack-knife in my pocket. Suddenness bothers me. Leering at me is a small plump man in a faded black suit, rumpled white dress-shirt, no tie.  His bald forehead glistens with thin beads of sweat and his heavy cheeks shudder when he talks.  His eyes are small and cloudy.   

“Can’t never tell these days, ya know . . . Like those long-haired peace-creeps with earrings who walk around barefoot and wear crosses ‘round their neck.  Don’t fuckin’ mean shit, boy, that cross don’t . . . Symbols ain’t symbols no more . . . Tiger-stripes and patches, you can buy that stuff at any Army-Navy store.”   

The year is 1975 and culture wars from the Sixties are still smoldering. I had cut the sleeves and the stenciled nametag off my old Army fatigue shirt and wore it like a vest over an explosion of tie-dyed colors. An instant middle finger to the status quo.

He pauses, as if for effect, licks his lips and sucks at spit. I drop my eyes and locate the jugular twitch which darts up toward his left ear.

“Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t.”

I was bottomed out in the mud and no longer knew if I was or wasn’t, had been or not. For too many years I straddled three cultures, donning coat ‘n tie and cufflinks while dictating letters to secretaries during the day, roaming less-than-savory streets in bell bottoms and love beads at night, and standing inspection in a starched Military Police uniform with brasso-polished buckles and spit-shined boots on weekends. I was being drawn-and-quartered by competing identities and my loyalty to each was fickle to non-existent. At age thirty I finally shed those ill-fitting personas and slithered off into the unknown.

“Been at war all my life. I was one of the most highly decorated men in the Navy, but that was all politics anyway.”

The talkative new guy in the black suit shuffles up and down the bar, shot glass in one hand, gesturing limply, palm up, with the other hand.  Slim lowers his head and picks at his nose but sneaks a glance at the stranger in the mirror, looking for bulges in his pockets.  It was the third of the month and the old fucker should still have his disability wad on him somewhere.

The men I killed in war‑‑and I’ve killed in peacetime, too . . .  We didn’t care about killin’ each other. Just doing what we had to do.”

Slim’s eyes are dark and puffy and squint like gun slits in an enemy bunker, but he is quick to notice that the old man has not paid for his whisky.  That means he is running a tab.  Cash-on-the-bar customers are easier to con, but Slim sits back and waits.  He has time on his side.

Time is chump-change, free time is gold, and alone-time is one of the few things in life worth killing for. My pockets were bulging and I was rich in possibility since I had been fired, evicted, dumped on and run out of town. That was in Los Angeles, my last tango with bourgeois values – work, progress, efficiency, power, riches, ambition, conformity –  and I was never so exuberant as when I caught a final glimpse of the mundane in my rear-view mirror heading north along the Pacific Ocean, toward the mountains. I soon found myself living in an old abandoned ranger’s shack high up in the Shasta‑Trinity National Forest. Jessica and I were alone. The closest village was more than an hour away. The first step toward growing a new you is to wrench yourself free from suffocating mediocrity, away from everything you previously held sacred.

“There’s good and there’s bad but when I’m bad I know it, don’t try to hide it. Nor the good, either.  Take those homosexuals . . . They been around in every age. I been to bed with a man once or twice but I don’t try to hide it.”

Slim instinctively clucked his tongue back up into his toothless mouth.  Just give the man some rope, he thought.  He closed one eye and shot a sidelong glance at Sally.  After gulping three quick Tequilas she tossed her head and arched her back and crossed her legs up high.  She would if she was lucky have some dollars on the bar before the end of the day, after a few trips out back in the alley.  “I like to swallow and you can put a bag over my head,” she would call out to each new customer as they walked in.  

High-Heeled Sally hiked her skirt up another notch as the old man passed behind her stool, mumbling like a saint in a rainstorm to no one in particular.

People should learn to love each other. A man’s a man only through the goodness and kindness of his heart. We’re strangers, right? Don’t even know your name . . .”

In the Shasta mountains not far from Castle Crags I would climb up to a snug little niche overlooking the glittering blue waters of Lake Tamarac and read books purloined from the library. I may be quick to boast about free time but I was also obsessed with not wasting it. I particularly needed to dispense once and for all with the notion of a petulant Supreme Being who imposed restraints and responsibilities on cowering creatures expected to genuflect and give thanks for their bondage. I parsed and dissected traditional proofs for the existence of God until I could expose their flaws in my sleep. Then, in the icy cold of Lake Tamarac, I baptized myself anew in the faith of a heretic. I embraced with a vengeance the realization that I was less-than-nothing, and the prospect of starting over again was intoxicating.

The bartender threw a damp rag down toward Cotton Boy.  He picked it up and swiped at the puddle he had spilled on the counter in front of him.  Then he opened the cloth wide with both hands and leaned over the bar and buried his pale sweaty face in the cool wet.

I’m saying I’m just what I am, both good and bad – and I don’t apologize for it. Killed many men and got the highest medals in the country. But I don’t care about that, don’t mean nothin’. Just doing what I had to do.

With his eyes closed and his elbows squeezed tight against his thin sides Cotton Boy could feel the plastic bag nestled in his waistband up under his shirt.  The streets were hot these days and he never knew when he might not be able to score some scag.  But he had his dirty set of works wrapped up in left over cottons, and if his connection didn’t show by mid-morning he would wander out back and tie up and rinse the impure dregs from the cottons into the mottled gray spoon and cook the soup till it bubbled and then draw it up and try to find a clean spot on his one good vein.

“Used to get drunk every night. Wouldn’t think I got much, would you? Look at these ratty clothes I’m wearin’. I get $800.00 a month from the government for the rest of my life. Sometimes I give it away, sometimes I drink it away.” 

When the last dirty mug from the night before was sloshed through the murky sink water and turned upside down to dry, the bartender lit a cigarette and poured himself a fist-sized shot of bourbon in the plastic glass he kept under the counter next to the baseball bat.  He had a long day ahead of him.  Cotton Boy he didn’t worry about.  He would drink just long enough to steady his syringe finger and then he would wander out back.  Sally would start slurring her words by noon but by the time she started falling down it would be the night bartender who would have to drag her out.  Slim would quick-finger wet change off the bar but drunks never noticed and a good bartender always looked the other way.  The old man in the wrinkled suit?  He had never seen this guy before.

“Sure, I’m lonely. Married twentyeight years. Think I wouldn’t want to sleep with a woman now and then? But we do what we do and we are what we are, is what I’m trying to say.”

He probably swung both ways.  Which gave him twice the opportunity to piss someone off.  But he would go down with one punch and that would be that.

In the cracked and peeling mirror behind the bar I caught a glimpse of myself under the hypnotically revolving clock. I had slipped into journal mode and was out on a tangent astride an asymptote again. Stalking suspicious-looking characters and unfettering your imagination to create dialogue and back stories is addictive. And, like flat-lining, a dangerous Faustian wager. Your senses flare to white like the dying gasp of a distant star and the festering moment you seek to know from the inside out suddenly implodes. The subjective you becomes a tangible object in your own narrative and both the me and the not-me disappear into a black hole.

No, the bartender wasn’t too worried about these guys.  Most were regulars and he knew their routines. Strangers he kept an eye on, especially quiet ones. They never bothered you, until they did.  He took a sip from under the counter and glancing my way motioned toward the cooler with a raised eyebrow. My stomach was growling and I knew better than to guzzle any more beer this early in the morning. I needed to think about food, and where I was going to sleep tonight.

“But I’ll say one thing: you can’t use your own private experience to determine what’s right or wrong for the rest of the world.”

 

Touch the Future

You’ll never know whether you had any impact on your students or not. Because if & when they do appreciate you, it won’t be until years later, when they mature and begin to think back over their influences. And by then you’ll be long gone from their lives . . . or dead.                – Ap Zylstra

I was not in my nearly 30 years in higher education a good professor. I rarely attended faculty meetings and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to graduation ceremonies. I was especially loathe to serve on committees. What colleges routinely expect from full-time instructors in the way of extracurricular “governance” activities was not in my DNA.

I gravitated toward teaching for two reasons. One, I was fascinated by cultural history and the so-called ‘Great Human Questions.’ Two, I coveted the luxury of 17-week’s vacation each year. At the ripe old age of 45 I completed a MLA in the Humanities and was immediately hired at a University in Michigan. Three years later I landed my ‘dream job’ at a two-year college in Naples, Florida.

Elsewhere (The Teaching Years: Selected Letters, 1984-1999) I have chronicled the ups and downs of my mid-life career change. Hair turning gray the night before standing up in front of my first class, barely finishing my notes at 3am for lectures to be delivered five hours later, not being able to hand out a syllabus/class schedule on the first day of class because I had not yet read the textbook and had no idea what material to assign from week-to-week. The stress was palpable and over the years played havoc with my blood pressure.

And yet, after only two years of teaching in Naples I was nominated for District-Wide Teacher of the Year. The following year I was nominated a second time. In spite of my fears and shortcomings, I was apparently doing something right.

Perhaps it had something to do with my obsession. I would wake up nights in a cold sweat wrestling in my mind with the relevance of humanities and the liberal arts. Students then and now no longer go to school for an education. With a snooty sense of entitlement they fork over tuition for a certificate they can peddle to an employer for a paycheck. A humanities class? Cultural values from long ago and far away? All that boring religion and philosophy and literature and art stuff? That my new chosen field of study was widely considered a waste of time was more than a slap in the face. It was a life-threatening invalidation of my raison d’être.

Mine was an existential compulsion in our newly emerging “post humanist” environment to drive moneychangers out of the Temple of Education*. And now and then I managed to save a lost soul or two. Student reviews were complimentary; some even wrote letters of praise to my superiors to place in my personnel file. Once a barefoot girl named Ruth stood up in class and shouted, “Hayes is God!” Okay, so maybe she was eventually institutionalized and given shock treatments but my reputation blossomed and students flocked to my classes.

[*President Trump just released a budget blueprint that calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, along with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Education’s International Education Programs, the Institute for Museums and Library Services, and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.]

A former blues musician returning to school in his late 20s, Timothy sat way in the back and never said a word. On the first in-class writing assignment he froze and when the final bell rang was still staring at a blank page. I relaxed my standards and encouraged him to take the assignment home and finish it at his leisure. Astonishingly, Tim trotted in the next day and handed me a remarkable 30-page paper entitled, “Science and the Concept of God.” That was the first of a treasure trove of essays Tim submitted as he cycled through a handful of my courses in humanities, philosophy, and art history.

“Why,” I asked a couple of years later in a letter of recommendation to the University of Colorado, “would I unequivocally recommend Tim to your institution? The quick answer is because there is a fire in his gut. The better answer is because his mission is a collective quest on behalf of all humankind. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that he has caught hold of and visibly manifests a notion that we teachers should remind ourselves of from time to time. Namely, that education is not facts, not grades, not degrees. Arts and ideas are the living artifacts of our cultural ground of being, and a liberal arts education is thus nothing less than the awakening of a soul to its rightful place in the ongoing human narrative.

Tim Lyons is a modern‑day pilgrim who instinctively understands these things. If in his quest he happens to stumble onto your campus, give him the keys to your library.”

I confess I was secretly proud of that letter, but nevertheless surprised to receive a few months later a humbling ‘thank-you’ from Tim that means more to me than any teaching award possibly could.

The fall semester of last year was the first semester of my return to school. In order to ease myself into the new situation (after 8 years away from tests, etc.), I took only two classes: Philosophy and Humanities. After registration and before class, I told my sister that I had the same professor for both classes. Well aware of the frail state my confidence was in, she was worried. She knew my impression of “what college is all about” would be defined in that first semester and that if my “bubble” were burst it might turn me away from the direction toward which I had committed myself. So much seemed contingent on this one professor. She was afraid I’d find myself lost again. I cannot tell you how fortunate (lucky, fated, blessed?) I feel to have had you as the professor in my first college classes.

During the first test, for instance, I was so nervous that at one point I seriously considered walking out of class and never stepping foot onto a college campus again. You may or may not recall, but I didn’t finish that test on time. I knew I had done the best I could but figured I had to accept the fact that it wasn’t good enough and maybe I wasn’t “cut out” for such things. Presumably, seeing how much I cared about the test (by the sweat on my forehead, etc.), you let me bring the second essay to you the next day. My confidence increased from that point on. I got an A+, and the comments you wrote were extremely encouraging. You were there, not to enforce a testing procedure, but to teach, and you had faith that I was there to learn. At the time you couldn’t have known how important that single test was to me. But it was in that one significant instant, my first test in 8 years, that you gave me the chance I needed to find a footing in my new direction ‑ in my new life. Of the things you’ve done for which I’m thankful, this was only the beginning.

Incidentally, during the second semester, I did have a professor in one of my non‑humanities courses that, had he been my first professor, might have made me think of college as a nightmare. But, because of the confidence I had gained in your classes, I nearly memorized the book and got 100’s on all his tests. I was usually the only one to get better than a C. People did poorly in his class, not because he was a difficult teacher, but because he was there to fulfill the hours written into a contract. He was not there to teach. You, on the other hand, would light fireworks in my head. Lecture after lecture, you would make connections between art, science, and philosophy that would put my mind in an electrical storm for the whole day ‑ week ‑ semester. Most, if not all, of these ideas are still raging around in there. Still, class would end, and everyone, myself included, would simply leave ‑ talking about the weekend or whatever. I was astonished at this. It seemed so unjust to me. Here you were giving this incredible lecture, and when it was over, we all just left, saying nothing more to you than “see ya’ later”. I was probably the most moved and therefore the most guilty. Aside from whatever rattle the torrential flight of my pen caused, I was silent. Off hand, I specifically remember the Medieval to Modern, Impressionism, and Cubism lectures, each of which left me ignited. Those lectures came across so lucid and well-structured it seemed to me they could be published. I would be so charged, (having been a musician) I literally and HONESTLY felt the absence of applause. Walking through the silence, I would leave class with ideas jolting through the whole of my existence. I would hardly say a word about it. I realize how exaggerated that sounds ‑ it isn’t ‑ that is EXACTLY how I felt.

Then after the semester was over, and your much-anticipated summer was beginning, you went well out of you way to photo copy almost 200 pages of literature for me. This shows, without question, your dedication and commitment to your vocation (hope you don’t mind that word). When I was well out of class, and even town, you continued to do what you so successfully do; you continued to teach. My family and myself were very moved by this (my mom and sister have both been teachers). I have not yet had the time to fully indulge myself in reading the stories and essays, but I hope to make the time soon.

I start school at University of Colorado at Denver this coming fall semester. I have little doubt that the letter of recommendation you wrote for me played a large part in making this possible. It was more potent and meaningful than anything I could ever have hoped for ‑ or even imagined. When I read it to my sister, she simply said, “That letter, in itself, is a work of art. It’s beautiful”. I agree. It was like poetry. I feel certain that it helped in my being accepted, but the letter is and will continue to be far more than something that helped me get into a college. I don’t know if I have ever been the recipient of such powerful, inspirational and tangible encouragement. Words can’t express what that letter means to me. No matter what happens in the future, I will keep a copy of it with me ‑ for the rest of my life.

In anticipating the years of school that lie ahead of me, I can hardly imagine encountering a more supportive, encouraging, comprehensible ‑ and most significantly ‑ dedicated professor. There is no way any “thank ­you letter” could express the appreciation I feel for the positive effect you have had on my life. The term “thank you” itself is entirely inadequate.

But it’s all I’ve got.

THANK YOU!

And that was the last I heard from Tim for over twenty years. On the one hand, the gist of the frontispiece quote by my major professor in graduate school, Ap Zylstra, is not entirely accurate. Sometimes we DO receive encouraging praise from our students. Nevertheless, time does indeed erase memories and sever connections as teacher and student inevitably go their separate ways. At least, that’s the way it used to be, before the Internet.

Imagine my delight to learn from googling Tim that he is now Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). That his initial humanities essay on “Science and the Concept of God” evolved into a British Journal for Philosophy of Science publication entitled Scientific Realism and the Stratagema de Divide et Impera. That he dedicated it, in part, to me.

“When I was in grad school…,” Tim emailed me recently, “I set my sights on publishing in the British Journal for Philosophy of Science. For my fellow grad students and I, that was our gold medal. A few years after starting my job, when I got news that the paper I had submitted to them would be published, I was so excited that I closed my office door and jumped up and down. (Looking back, it’s probably the publication that locked in tenure for me, and it remains my most frequently cited text.) I mention that to you and attach that text here for a couple of reasons. First, my initial exposure to Kepler and Newton was in your humanities class. And you’ll see in the paper that, when I finally got a chance to study their primary texts, I discovered some really exciting stuff as it bears on the debate in which I’m engaged, the scientific realism debate. Second, and more broadly now, it was during your lectures —and in working up that paper you mentioned— that I became enchanted with the central questions at issue in that debate. (Amusingly, perhaps, or at least to me, I’ve wholly left behind the concept of God stuff, but retained my fascination with the epistemic status of scientific theories.) Third, even more broadly, as I write this, I can’t resist saying something about the principles, or whatever they should be called, that I’ve tried to champion to whatever extent I can, and which allowed me to forge out my own position in the debate. When combined the principles amount to something along the lines of, embrace epistemic humility while insatiably seeking truth, or seek truth without claiming to possess it. Although it’s a continual struggle to live up to them, those principles are my fires; and it is no exaggeration to tell you that they were ignited within me in your classroom and while you were speaking to us. Fourth—and for these reasons—you’ll see your name in the acknowledgements of the BJPS paper, not that my including it did any justice to the gratitude I’ve felt for more than two decades! What I really want to say is that, in a number of very significant ways, that BJPS paper is yours.”

All-in-all not a bad life – ‘vocation,’ Tim would say – as seen looking downhill from my retirement years.

I was admittedly a green broke instructor who never accumulated a bunch of fancy degrees and awards like real professors do. But I stayed faithful to my self-imposed mandate to teach the few, not coddle the many. Along the way I quietly climbed Maslow’s ladder, and am humbled to have been able to ignite a fire or two.

To touch the future, who could ask for anything more?

Student Comments

Girl on a Moped

[Excerpt from ‘Blood Rain,’ Volume II of my Memoir.]

“AAAAIIIIEEEEE!”

“That was the roar of the beast,” she said, strumming her hand through crotch-ooze and licking sticky bittersweet from her fingers. “You opened me up like a dead fish.”

An hour earlier we had been strangers sitting on stools at a beach bar. When the lights blinked ‘last call’ she wobbled outside and asked me to hold her Moped steady while she took aim and swung a leg up over the seat. With a crooked smile she jerked a thumb inland over the bridge and motioned for me to follow her home.

I lagged a block behind in my Volkswagen as she straddled yellow lines and drifted around corners, fearful that she would wipe out on the curb or a tree and not sure if I would stop and help her if she did. Just talking to the cops and paramedics when they arrived would likely earn me another DWI.

I had been idling at The Driftwood since two o’clock that afternoon after an aborted attempt to apply for a job. Want ads always set my teeth on edge but I needed gas and beer money and stock clerking in a gift shop at the airport I figured I could handle. It was 95 degrees in the parking lot at the St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport and by the time I changed clothes in the cramped VW I was sopping wet and livid with frustration, not a good time to try and explain in an interview why I had no address, no phone, no references. Fuck the job! I squirmed back into faded cutoffs and went in search of a bar with cold kegs and frosty mugs.

She skidded to a stop in the driveway of a split-level ranch house and hoisted her scooter up over the kickstand. I pulled in behind her, cringing at the thought of a jealous husband coming home unexpectedly in the middle of the night. “No,” she assured me, “I’m a granny-nanny for 92-year-old Mae and I lock her bedroom door once she falls asleep. She can’t hear anything anyway.” And with that she turned Jim Morrison up full blast kicked off her sandals and dropped her clothes on the floor.

Two frolics and a pair of rugburns later I wanted to roll over and sleep but she found a roach and waved it under my nose.

“I wasn’t sure if I could accept you it’s been so long, four or five years. Good thing I had some Vaseline . . . You haven’t seen anything yet. I used to have this little muscle down there and I could work it good, like a lemon squeezer . . . Lived 20 years in New York and oh boy did I have lovers, mostly musicians, five o’clock in the morning after a gig, the door was always open . . . Had three husbands too but I got rid of them. Last one drank, no furniture. His stepson threw me out the window. The kid was on drugs and his sixteen-year-old sister was a prostitute, tried to seduce her own father for money . . . Whenever the old man got thrown in the slammer I never went to bail him out, three or four days of peace and quiet.”

The tip of the doobie glowed and crackled as she took a deep whoosh and held her breath, her breasts squishing and slipping across her tummy like deflated jellyfish. “Jo…sie,” she exhaled, “my name’s . . . Josie.”

“You sure Mae won’t wake up?” I asked.

“Mae fell and broke her hip, picking up leaves. I told her to wait for the yardman on Tuesday but she’s obsessed, her bones are brittle . . . I give her vitamins, she heals fast . . . She doesn’t understand the clock anymore but she has a sixth sense. Same time each day it’s time to rake leaves, so many hours after the sun goes down it’s time for bed. Mornings she tries to fix her own breakfast but when the eggs are done I sneak over and turn them off . . . I get along good with her, spend time with her. She only pouts when I tell her she’s had too many cookies. Ten minutes later she’s forgotten . . . As long as she keeps busy she’s happy. I don’t let her get bored but she gets depressed when those religious stations are on, preacher-man raining down fire and brimstone. Mae always wants to send them money and gets mad when I hide her checkbook. I change stations when she goes to the bathroom. She doesn’t know any better just thinks the program has ended . . . And every day she’s out there picking up leaves again. She’s got that one tree in the front that always drops a few for her. If it’s hot outside she just takes off her dress and scoots around in her slip.”

Josie breached and arched her back, still babbling nonstop. Mounting and humping her from behind was like trying to ride a porpoise.

“In France I had some doctor and lawyer friends, homosexuals, they always like to have a woman tag along with them, ya know. We would go to a fancy place, restaurant or dinner party, and boys would suck them off under the table, sometimes only sixteen years old . . . With my last husband I might wake up with a coke bottle up my ass, nothing shocks me anymore. If what you do no matter what gives you pleasure, okay. But if it involves pain it’s kinky and that’s not okay . . . You coming back tomorrow night with another hard-on?”

Outside under the cover of a heavy fog birds were just beginning to chatter. I let Yaja out of the car for a sprint around the yard and she quickly found a pile of leaves to poop in. When you’re curling up at night in the back seat of a small Volkswagen with a sizeable German Shepherd you never turn down a bed. I would be back, and I wasn’t interested in small talk.