A Good Guy Who Aged Well. ©2015

Pondering the generations, with L.E. Taylor

IN 1943 AMERICA, an eight-year-old boy’s imagination was teeming with real heroes. Certainly mine was. Not rock stars or millionaire sports hotshots; these were true, living heroes, not much older than I. Unlike our twenty-first century darlings, these icons weren’t full of themselves. These heroes didn’t strut or preen. They just worked. They got dirty and bloodied, and many died young doing the work they were paid a pittance to do.

They waged war against evil.

In the great fortified arsenal that was our city in those days, everyone was obsessed with The War. We lived in the shadow of fear and uncertainty that haunted families everywhere in the world. But we were uniquely blessed – the hideous battlefields of Europe and the Pacific would not come to us. Too much ocean to cross for the bad guys to get at us. Instead, American families had to send their youngsters “over there”.

Television wasn’t even a word. All we knew of the drama came by way of the radio, daily newspapers, and Life Magazine. But they were enough to invade a child’s innocent mind with the unspeakable. Enough for a bright, imaginative lad to draw conclusions about good and evil, bad guys and good guys.

Yesterday, I opened an email from a neighbor. It had a link. Suddenly, I was in the presence of one of my heroes of 1943. No, I didn’t know this fellow personally, or even by name. But I recognized him in a flash. He wore a crisply laundered and starched U.S. Air Force summer uniform, with big silver captain’s bars on the collar. His officer’s cap was as squared and as becoming to his handsome ninety-one-year old face as it had been the last time he wore it. Seventy years ago.

Please allow me to introduce you to P-51 Mustang fighter pilot, Captain Jerry Yellen:

https://www.dvidshub.net/video/395572/jerry-yellin-world-war-ii-veteran-interview#.VdJcIBRVhBc

When I grow up I want to be just like him.

Onward.

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Catherine Writes, from the Past ©2015

A childhood recollection, passed along by L. E. Taylor

WE ALL HAVE STORIES. There are many reasons for telling them, some selfish, some generous. The same goes for not telling, for not remembering.

In 2012, I created a series of workshops for mature people to help them discover their own versions of the writer’s craft. It would be an oasis where they could tap into the truth of their past and enjoy the pleasures of family storytelling.

But the joy has a price.

A couple of years ago, the first students arrived in Session One of Workshop three. As always, I gave the group a six-minute drill. They would write stream-of-consciousness, and then read aloud what they’d written. When it came Catherine’s turn, she balked, read haltingly, and wept. She had tried to write about what was most on her mind, the searing pain of her husband Bill’s retreat into dementia. Overwhelmed by raw anguish, Catherine had been able to scratch out just two simple sentences, then she slid the sheet of paper to me to read aloud. It was not a story. But it was true. Everyone was moved. Without knowing it, Catherine had given us a poem.

Last Thursday, after two years of courageous writing about her wonderful up and down life with Bill, Catherine arrived in class with a gift – an anecdote from childhood that she’d been unable to complete since those first sessions. It had bloomed from that two-line poem about Bill, into a true story from deep within her…

**********

In the Woods at Grandma’s House
Draft 3 – October 15, 2015
By Catherine

I am running and crying, so scared. If they catch me I will get beaten. I’m five years old and I’m getting tired. I have to reach those woods before they catch me. I play in the woods alone all the time and I know where to hide. It’s late and getting dark. I’ve never been here in the dark. I am in the woods now and they quit chasing me and they went home. I feel safe from those people that hate me so much. I know why they are so mad at me. I shouldn’t have pulled that chair from under Aunt Betty as she was sitting down for dinner. I guess because she is going to have a baby real soon; made the fall to the floor worse. I did it because I hate her. I don’t like living at my grandmother’s house. I wish my mother would let me live with her.

          If my daddy were here, he wouldn’t let my grandfather beat me with that leather razor strap. I wish my dad didn’t die when I was three years old. He is my secret dad now. I talk to him when I am scared and lonely. Sometimes I think he’s the only one that loves me. I don’t know why Aunt Betty had to lie about him. She said he was “a no good drunk”. That’s why I pulled the chair out from under her. I wanted to hurt her like she hurt me.

          I’m sitting here, leaning on a big hickory tree, I am still mad but I am scared because it is dark now. The sounds are different in these woods at night. I just saw the lamps go out and the house get dark. I will wait until they are asleep before I go home. Maybe I can sneak in and get in bed with my little brother and tomorrow they won’t remember the bad thing I did.

          Catherine, age 5

**********

THIS VIGNETTE IS TRUE. In the course of courageously writing many lively and charming stories, Catherine had kept this harsh memory of childhood abandonment and abuse as a visceral challenge that she had to master. It took seventy-five-year-old Catherine three drafts, using different techniques learned with practice, to write it well.

Last week, after seventy years, it was ready for you to read. She broke several of my rules – number one: Avoid starting every story with “I”.

I forgive her.

Onward.

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Ah, To Be Jung Again. ©2015

Reconsidering my mid-life quest, by L.E. Taylor

A COUPLE OF DECADES AGO I found myself in a writer’s workshop on the high mesa outside Taos New Mexico. (I didn’t mean to start out with a pun, but there it is.) At the time, I wasn’t aware I was “finding myself,” but those five days did prompt an eventual change of course in my Middle American, middle-brow journey.

A whole series of coincidences led to that good moment. And to this one.

The class instructor was a remarkable soul by the name of Pierre Delattre (Deh-lot-truh). You probably don’t recognize the name, but that’s no reflection on you. Or Pierre. But once, it was different.

In the years I was struggling to make my way as a freelance ad man in the Midwest, Pierre was already established in the volatile bohemian neighborhoods of San Francisco. It was the 1960s and he was at the chaotic center of all the political and social drama. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Pierre was dubbed by Time Magazine, “The Beatnik Priest of San Francisco”. His notable autobiographical books are Walking On Air and Tales of a Dalai Lama.

My most admired of his works, however, is a collection called Episodes, a copy of which he inscribed to me.

But that came thirty years later when our paths would finally cross briefly, on the high table-land of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Pierre’s one week writing-drill was rich in wisdom beyond tips on prose writing. Among his insights was the notion that our individual lives are patchworks of stories informed by experience – much of it ironic and improbable. He used a term I had heard, but never paid much attention to: Synchronicity. He gave examples in his own life of stunningly abrupt intersections of events, good fortune, and answered prayers.

As a young expatriate, Pierre was once marooned with his family in the impoverished backcountry of Mexico, flat broke with no way to get home. Contracted to write a novel, but battling a writer’s block, he finds himself absorbed with the abstract idea of “balance.” His fictional story is to be set in a circus, but he’s hit a wall. What does he know about the circus? At one critical moment of despair, a stranger arrives at his front door. Pierre writes this fragment in Episodes:

“Hi, I’m Carlos. I hear you’re writing a circus novel. I was a juggler in a circus for five years.” [Carlos] took me home; his whole family juggled for me. Carlos gave me a rare book on the mysticism of juggling.

Pierre quickly completes his manuscript and ships it off to his publisher. Soon, a check for his advance comes just in time to save the family. “We were down to our last peso,” he wrote.

THE BEGINNING OF MY OWN first novel came in the late nineties. Financially rewarded as a corporate marketing consultant, I was nonetheless, spiritually drained by the arid monotony of joyless striving. Also, the cash flow was waning. One chill gray morning I retreated into one of our vacant offices and, to excuse my need for solitude, I decided to learn how to use our strange new Apple word processor. I advised my assistant, and closed the door.

Averse to writing anything on my to-do list, I flashed on a morsel of family lore. Working from memory and embellishing as I went, I got caught up in the narrative. The next day I discovered I’d written not a short story; but “Chapter One.” For three years, amidst financial distress and personal sorrows, I journeyed every night into the past for hours, virtually taking dictation from an angel on my shoulder. The result was my 460 page novel, Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga.

My occupation, since completing that book, has evolved into a special calling. Unexpectedly, I now find reward helping people of earlier generations reclaim their own rich nuggets of days past. My role is to share with them what I learned crafting my true stories. I coach them to capture their treasures with care, as a worthy legacy for others. The workshops are called Great Family Storytelling. Students are guided to not only remember, but also to write their tales in prose, as polished as they have the will to muster. I am not easy on them. The result for both student and family is the joy that comes with a strict labor of love, well done.

Synchronicity is not the fever-dream of some New Age yogi; it is the clinical inspiration of one of the great minds of psychiatry, Carl Jung. A Swiss disciple of the Viennese icon Sigmund Freud, Jung considered himself a scientist. His work has made a powerful impact on our notions of how the brain works. Much in the field that we take for granted originated with Carl Jung: the conscious and the unconscious, the phenomena of personality types, and how to explain synchronicity.

As he studied, Jung kept his mind open and did not dismiss the meaning of primal symbolism, or the possibility of multiple lives of one spirit (reincarnation). But, perhaps the most controversial of his obsessions was the bizarre coincidences in ordinary lives that are both timely and uncannily apt – the phenomenon he termed “synchronicity”.

Last week, I got an unexpected note from a former student on the topic of coincidence. She said she doesn’t believe in dumb coincidence; she thinks there’s an energy that surrounds us and influences us. Our life is full of opportunity and clues to light our Way; all we have to do is pay attention and respond. Some call it the Holy Spirit.

That’s when I remembered my old mentor Pierre, snoozing for decades in my subconscious. I went to the wall of books in my writer-cave. There, high-up, I found it, Episodes, by Pierre Delattre. I’d never read it all the way through, so riffled the pages for a moment. A word caught my eye, I backtracked. At the top of page 147, a one word title: “Synchronicity.”

OUR GIFT OF LIFE is designed to be more than a mindless slog from birth to death. It is a cavalcade of opportunities to conjure with and learn from, even as we wrestle with the earthly sojourn. Another pastor, this one half a lifetime ago at my home church in Ann Arbor, drummed the same mantra: Choose Life!

Consider this: You needn’t be a counter-culture rebel nor an arty mystic to grab your hold on the Truth, and then to share your joy with others. Just pay attention, trust what you see, and then follow; maybe the answers, after all, are hidden in the problems.

Onward.

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Resources.

  1. Delattre, Pierre; Episodes; Gray Wolf Press, Saint Paul, MN; 1993.
  2. Taylor, L. E.; Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga; FreisenPress; Vancouver B.C., Canada; 2012.
  3. Carl Jung, www.wikipedia.com
  4. Synchonicity, www.wikipedia.com
  5. [Author]; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; [pub. Info.]; 1973.
  6. Murphy, Dr. Joseph; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; Prentice-Hall; Paramus, NJ; 1963.

Ahoy, Lads! ©2015

All at sea in my mind, a boyhood reflection by L.E.Taylor

A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO, I had cause to reflect on lives lived and now over.

A week earlier, I’d received the Ancestry.com report on my personal DNA analysis. It concluded that my lineage goes back to the British Isles (I know), Scandinavia (Vikings and all that), Central Europe (sauerkraut, beer, Lutherans), and traces of Mediterranean mischief.

That last one got me thinking. Not very hard, of course, just musing. Then a spiritualist friend of mine teased me with a tidbit of news: She claimed I’d lived before, died young, had been a sixteenth century Italian, and a seventeenth century Irishman. A writer both times. Okay, relax; I’m no mystic, and only gullible to the extent that my creative work leans toward the romantic. But, as I said, it got the wheels turning. I am, after all, a writer.

I set about crafting a fictional tale using the far-fetched nudges I’d just received, both the scientific and the supernatural. My imagined story would begin with the near-drowning of a young Latin (?) sailor off the Coast of Ireland in the storm-tossed sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Got it? Okay, more on that another time. For now…

My boyhood during the Second World War was lived in my birth place of Detroit – and summer-times, with my great aunt in an old house on Lake St. Clair in Ontario, Canada.

Most Americans are unacquainted with the upper Midwest. They think of farm lands and smoky crowded cities, dark skies, snow and cold. But Michigan is a maritime state. The water is fresh, not salty, but it is deep and broad and wild in its storms of both winter and summer. Half of the state is water. Michigan’s two peninsulas are defined by massive fresh water inland seas. Michigan has over three thousand miles of coastline, more than any other state but Alaska.

In most states the 12 mile wide Lake St. Clair would be considered a “great” lake. In the chain of seas called The Great Lakes, it is just a wide place on the strait between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Impressive, dangerous, deep enough to have an international shipping channel, but, alas, not a Great Lake.

It seems I’ve always been drawn to the big water.

One summer day in my eleventh year in Detroit, I pulled on my Buster Brown clod-hoppers and set out from my home; I would walk until I came to the “river.” What did I know? Not much. But the water beckoned. I was actually walking to the lake. I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t even think to tie my shoe laces.

The trek was eight miles. One way. Presently, I saw the lake, looked at it for a minute or so, thought about my Auntie Kane over the horizon in Canada, and headed homeward. I was tired, thirsty and hungry. When I arrived back at 5770 Harvard Road my heels were bloody and I knew a little more about the geography of my universe.

That same year, with fall still weeks away, a couple of lads came around on a sunny day to recruit boys into the Sea Scouts of America. They were teenagers, what we called “big boys.” Handsome, blond, uniformed, and energetic. I was impressed and entranced with the idea of sailing the lakes, but I was small-fry, they were not good recruiters, and they moved on. I was left with my dream of sea adventure aground.

Preparing to write my fictional story this week, I researched the sinking of the Armada. Then I found myself reading all about sailing craft, rigging, architecture, nomenclature, history.

Today, patient reader, if I were as young as I was then, and as wonderfully smart as I am now, I would make learning to sail wind-driven boats a serious ambition. I’d start with dinghies, then I’d learn (and earn) my way up to a sloop or a ketch. If I hadn’t the wealth to own my own craft (unlikely, if I really wanted it), I would hire onto a crew and ply the seas as a blue water mariner.

Not yet into the actual writing of my fantasy, suddenly it dawned on me that such was exactly the route taken by my Uncle Bill. My mother’s kid sister, Helen had married Bill Barber, her high school beau. They married right before Pearl Harbor. His wartime adventure as skipper of a sailing craft in the South Seas is acknowledged briefly in my book, Elgan and Grace. – A Twentieth Century Saga (pp, 309-311).

Bill Barber and I were brothers of the soul. We sparred occasionally because we were nothing alike except in spirit. My father, himself a restless fugitive from the Kentucky coalmines, was far more like Uncle Bill than he, a self-made businessman (not a wandering seadog), would admit. Like all the characters in my book – or for that matter, anyone’s book – both were flawed. But Bill’s calling to be a mariner, specifically a sailor, whatever that would mean in sacrifice of bourgeois refinements, was true and impervious to reproach.

Now, in the autumn of my years, I view the course of life organically. Whether as sailor or surgeon, merchant or magistrate, poet or preacher. The calling to engage with life feeds a certain readiness of soul, I think, and may be more than a vagabond wanderlust. It’s the affinity for challenge – of intellect, sinew, spirit, and courage.

All vocations may not be equal on the scales of Providence. Self-indulgently, for the moment, I just write stuff that may amuse you.

Onward.

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Resources.

  1. Taylor. L.E., Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, FreisenPress, Vancouver B.C., Canada, 2012. www.ElganAndGrace.com.
  2. Hostellers Sailing Club (Australia) – www.btinternetr.com/~sail/cruising.htm
  3. www.Ancestry.com

Flunking Your Way to Success,
Part Two ©2015

Another true tale of error and winning, by L.E. Taylor

THE SOUTHEASTERN HIGH SCHOOL baseball field was not in the young ballplayer’s neighborhood. It was the usual 1950s Detroit sandlot – dirt infield, no fences, just a green-stubble outfield that went forever, cut through right-to-left by a street about 400 feet from home plate. He was more nervous than usual. The bleachers were crowded with loud, hostile fans of the Mudcats, the home team.

The young man was leadoff batter for the Rockets. He started the game with a walk from a tough-looking pitcher whose pitches were as wild as they were deadly fast. The boy stole second right away to settle his nerves, and there he remained while the next three Rocket batters all fanned to end the top of the inning. He jogged over to his nearby place at shortstop, took the warmup grounders from first baseman Dave Benner, and managed to toss each of the two practice throws back within reach of Dave’s big mitt without embarrassment.

He could field anything that was hit within a three-step sprint of his place on the field. But his young throwing arm was undisciplined. Fear pumped adrenaline into his muscles; the ball could end up anywhere.

The next four innings bore out his reputation for throwing errors, and the Mudcats were up 2-1 on two unearned runs. Now the kid stepped into the batter’s box for his third at bat with two out and the bases empty. Amidst taunting hoots and catcalls he blinked at the big hurler. He was rattled and unfocused. He took the first pitch, a dazzling strike that snapped like a pistol shot into the catcher’s mitt.

The hooligans behind home plate screamed with cruel delight – Romans in the Coliseum. He took a deep breath, and swung smartly at the next pitch; it shot back foul into the screen. Along with that second strike came two flashes of good luck: First, the kid realized he’d seen the pitch well and timed it perfectly, but had swung under the ball, missing by only a fraction of an inch; and second, the gaggle of Mudcat fans went nasty – and personal. “Dat’s yer hit, shorty… woo-hooo, siddown, you stink…” It got up his gorge. And focused his mind.

The boy stepped out of the box, scooped up a handful of clay dust and rubbed his hands together. He glanced over a shoulder into the eyes of his tormentors. He did not look at his father who sat on the Rockets’ bench keeping the official score book. He did not look into the bleachers for his mother or his brother or aunt and uncle who attended his games each Sunday.

He shifted attention and engaged the pitcher. The pitcher’s hands caressing the ball. The pitcher’s angry sideways stance. The pitcher’s eyes. Without looking away, the boy took his place in the box, tapped the plate, and drew an imaginary trajectory of the same pitch this Mudcats’ bum had been firing all afternoon. The pitcher wound up and the ball came like lightning.

The crack of the bat was that sweet, clean sound every old time baseball lover knows as the music of the game.

He darted from the batter’s box. Sprinting past first base, a quick glance toward center field revealed the tiny dot that was the back of the rival outfielder; he was crossing the street where a fence would have been in any respectable American stadium. The boy gritted his teeth and sped. Rounding third now, still at his best scamper speed, breath labored, he circumnavigated his own dumbfounded manager whose fervor had taken the man well homeward, out of the coach’s box, though still away from the sacred base path. Just fifty feet ahead the boy saw the other team’s catcher and pitcher in disarray, both blocking the plate. Evidently a throw was on its way from the cutoff man. The kid thought the heck with this, no way am I gonna slide. He raced past them at full speed and collided with the backstop screen.

His dad had dropped the score pad and joined with the rest of the Rockets to embrace his young hero.

In a year, the young man went on to college and later to a self-employed career in business. He never reached his dream of playing professional baseball, of course. But he never forgot the hot July Sunday he learned to not let his weaknesses block him from performing to the best of his strengths. And to use his brain to drive his performance, unhindered by emotions.

Onward.

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Foot notes:

  • What happened then? Well, next inning, the Rockets again fell behind on a throwing error by their shortstop. But they retook the lead on a homerun by first baseman Dave Benner. The final out of the game was on a cleanly fielded ground ball to the Rockets shortstop who set himself calmly and to the relief of all, fired a strike into Dave’s trusty-dusty mitt. –LET
  • Next time, Part Three –The Lesson.

Flunking Your Way to Success,
Part One ©2015

Thoughts on the perfection myth, by L.E. Taylor

ANOTHER EMAIL JUST ARRIVED from LinkedIn, the social network for career-bent strivers. This one carried an invitation to join with several of my “contacts” in a niche organization that many of them had found simpatico. In the margin was a conversation-starter question:

“What have you learned from failing?”

Notice the question did not refer to “failure.” The sponsoring group is Professional Women’s Network. The inference I was pleased to draw was that these are vocationally successful persons. They see failing as an incidental flashpoint. Otherwise, the term might well have been ‘failure,’ which connotes the act of failing not as an event, but as a habit, implying a chronic condition.

The time-worn axiom about penury comes to mind: Being broke is a temporary predicament; being poor is a frame of mind. Each signals a different impulse in given individuals: to take action or to curl up.

After one calamitous laboratory accident, a 30-ish Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter if he was discouraged having failed so many times. Edison replied cheerfully that he was, in fact, exhilarated; now he knew ninety-six things that didn’t work.

We all know at least one pet thing that doesn’t work. But in spite of the evidence, many of us stubbornly flail away at the old horse carcass without objectively adjusting assumptions. That isn’t perseverance, it’s knuckle-headedness.

But back to the business network question.

In the booming decade after World War II, peacetime spawned a quality of life previously undreamed of for most American households. Evidence of self-satisfaction soon appeared in the quaint form of an annual practice called the Christmas letter. It was usually a single typewritten page, neatly folded and inserted into each outgoing Christmas card. The narrative was a glowing report on the blessings of success, harmony, and fulfillment enjoyed by each haloed member of the extraordinary clan.

Big John’s new promotion got top billing. Mildred’s domestic talents and selfless volunteer work kept the four-bedroom dream house snug and perfect for the amazing, above average exploits of all – e.g., the State U. scholarship freshman Jack (Jr.), the baton twirling champion Susan, the adorably funny twins Lloyd and Floyd, spry forgetful Grandma Em, and even Rufus the aging sheepdog-Corgi mix who guarded the suburban model home though asleep..

Human nature being what it is, the impact upon mortal readers was predictable. No recipients who glance up from a letter of such glad tidings to view the chaos of their own domestic battleground were fooled.

In the real world there are no painless successes.

Facebook is something like that: Weekly close up snapshots of a chicken salad and a terse caption that once again Heather is having lunch with her doting, faithful hubby at TGI Friday’s becomes cloying. A quick e-blast that bachelor pal Randy is heading for yet another vacation on the beaches of Cancun seems to have no point (What, already?! Didn’t that just happen last month?).

Myriad variations on such pedestrian narcissism is summed up nicely in the neologism, “selfie”. Seldom are friends informed meaningfully by this stuff. Nor are fringe surfers rewarded with honest joy. And the robotic response of chirpy network chums is even more banal than the fluffed-up initial posting.

Scanning LinkedIn, however, I catch a whiff of substance. More than idle bragging, there resonates in these exchanges a sense of purpose. Self-promotion, sure. So what? (If not by you, then who?) Individuals are actually trying to accomplish things. They are living mobile business lives – upwardly, laterally, or maybe in a circle, but they aren’t just sitting there ‘liking’ each other. It’s about work.

So, I’m all for it. Yes, my capitalist sisters, if you’ll have me as a brother-in-arms auxiliary of the Professional Women’s Network, I’m in. Maybe we can do something to help each other, even if only by encouragement or offering grief-saving tips on what works and what is fool’s gold. Come, sit here by me – wise, harmless old Uncle Larry.

I don’t have to wear a red hat, do I?

Onward.

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Next time:
Part Two: 3 common failures and their lessons

Jamaica Dreams.
Part Three: Escape from Paradise ©2015

The way it was… remembrances by L. E. Taylor

SLEEP CAME ON THE HEELS of exhaustion well into the third night of our Jamaican idyll. I was up and alert at sunrise, however, with one purpose: To commandeer use of the hotel telephone. Big Mamoo Hairtoes saw smouldering resolve in my demeanor and vacated the stool at her Lilliputian desk without comment. I grabbed a paper napkin and wiped off the receiver. The stool would require a bigger towel; I opted to stand.

The impossible task of securing two same-day reservations on three different airlines, plus one taxi from Negril to Kingston airport played out in a blur, and with surprising success. The cabbie arrived on time, and loaded our luggage into a regular Ford. He was congenial and spoke with an Indo-British lilt. What time was our departure, please, he asked. Three-twenty. Oh, plenty of time, sir, he sang.

The cab was remarkably clean. By U.S. standards, it was immaculate. Delores wore a summery pink flowered dress and carried a sun hat. I was in khaki slacks and a white polo shirt; I removed my navy blazer, folded it neatly, and placed it on the rattan covered seat. The cabbie wore a billed yellow cap with open wickerwork all round the crown; it sported a white badge on the side, bearing his ID number.

Reenacting our cannabis-perfumed jungle trek of only three days ago, we were glum. Without saying so aloud, we were relieved to be out alive, but disappointed. The day was sunny and mild, as we’d expected for February. In a flash, I got an idea, and spoke to the driver.

“We’ve got a couple of hours before the flight. Can you recommend a nice seafood restaurant? Away from the airport and tourists, though. I want to have a conch salad and a drink.”

“Oh, yes, sir. Know just the place,” he yodeled. “On the bay.”

We left the paved road presently, and in low-gear climbed a narrow trail cut into the tropical forest. We emerged atop at an ocean overlook. Our man steered us into a circular drive shaded by a canopy of palm leaves, and stopped at a great weathered oak door held up on iron hinges and embraced by two flickering lanterns.

“Tell them ‘Michael the Cabbie’ told you. They treat you very-good.”

“Will you come back for us in time for the plane?”

“I wait right here.”

“You will?”

He nodded and grinned. “You go on.”

“I’ll pay for your time,” I said.

“You go on, sir,” he waved.

The place was dark in contrast with the bright Caribbean afternoon. A couple of people sat at the bar. I began to mention ‘Michael,’ but before I could finish, the maître de’ was leading us through a room of empty white clad tables. Ours awaited us, as though by divine whimsy, at a broad clear window overlooking the aquamarine bay.

The captain drew out milady’s chair, she sat, and he snapped open a napkin and handed it to her. I thanked him, snapped my own blazer lapels, and allowed him to present my chair. We ordered a couple of rum tonics and the fresh seafood salads du jour.

We peered agog at the sea. We looked at each other. “What the…,”we began simultaneously. We laughed, not bothering with the last word of the shared remark. Our drinks appeared.

Tension melted away and we began our first conversation in a very long time. Below, on the clear water not a hundred yards distant, a yacht was anchored – a yawl, two-masted, spar-varnished over a natural wood finish, sails furled tight in blue sleeves. The mainmast flew a West German tri-colour. Two figures aboard. Both appeared trim and athletic, both blond and tanned. The woman in a yellow bikini, lolled on the foredeck; the man in cut-off faded dungarees fussed in the stern with rope lines and mystery-junk. My imagination took over. Had they sailed all the way from Hamburg with stops in Spain and the Canaries? Might they be wealthy Eurotrash, hopscotching from the Med through Gibraltar and Westward-Ho to the southern climes for drugs and debauchery? Or did they just fly down from Cleveland to rent a boat and had packed a flag in their luggage for a joke?

It’s been thirty years since that sliver of mindless pleasure, enjoying a conch salad and a rare moment of amusement with a sassy blond nurse from my hometown. But I still wonder sometimes about the couple on that yawl; who they were, where they came from; how they travelled. And whatever happened to them?

The lunch was delicious and the glasses drained. Dolly read my mind: “Do you think Michael is still out front with our luggage?”

I replied, “Of course he is. He’s our angel. That’s his job.”

Our Angel Michael tossed aside his crossword puzzle and rushed around to hold the door for us. We made our flight, but takeoff was late so arrival in MIA placed me near my Delta gate to Dallas with just a half hour to spare. But Delores exited into the terminal a long sprint from her American flight to Detroit – due to depart in ten minutes. She hiked her bulging carry-on over one shoulder, clopped the straw sombrero over unruly blond wisps, accepted a hug from me, and disappeared into the milling crowd.

I was awash in regrets, sad to see her go without my help and protection, and stood there with a lump in my throat. ‘I’ll make it up to you, girl,’ I thought. ‘Someday. I hope.’

Onward.

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Jamaica Dreams.
Part Two: Fight or Flight ©2015

The way it was… remembrances by L. E. Taylor

THE DINNER OF NIGHT TWO at our no-name Caribbean hideaway outside Negril was identical to the night before. The menu items were different but the over-spiced mystery food (chicken I think, maybe driftwood) tasted exactly the same as last night’s prawns. And the wine, again, was at room temperature. If you were dining in a sauna.

The incessant racket of reggae well down the beach lent perspective to an otherwise dull night in the tropics. Delores and I had retired to our doorless suite of one room, plus half-bath and half-closet. The ceiling fan thum-thrummed, stirring heavy air, still redolent of angry curry vapors. (We were over the kitchen.) She clicked on the light bulb and flipped open a magazine.

Urgent footfalls on the outdoor stairway startled us. “Douse the light,” I said. We heard a hard padding commotion just outside on our deck; panicky huffing and wheezing, then a pounding on the louvered screen door. Adrenaline spiked my instincts. Hushed, excited mumbling of two people, now. I pulled back the curtain. In the darkness I recognized the plump white faces of the young couple form the room next door.

“We were on the beach,” he said, “walking back from the party and a guy came up and grabbed her. We got away and he ran after us. Please let us in.”

“Was he armed?” I asked.

“A knife, I think.”

“Get in here,” I said. I searched around for a weapon, a club. Nothing. I spoke to the women: “You two get back there in the dark and be quiet.” I ushered them to an alcove next to the no-shower bathroom. I rummaged around and came up with a wire coat hanger.

“You,” I said to the fat kid, “What’s your name?”

“Gil.”

“How big is this guy?”

“About your size.”

Good. I stared at the floor. “Okay… Gil,” I said, “The most important thing we have to do is keep that sonofabitch out of here.” I was uncurling the coat hanger and wrapping it around one hand. “When he comes through that door, I’ll be behind him, over there.” I wrapped the loose end of the wire hanger around my other hand. “He’ll come in and he’ll see you. I’ll grab him around the neck with this and run him out the door and over the side.” Gil stared at me in the deep-shadowed room. “Uh, Gil…? You. Stand. Right. There. Got it? Gil.?

“Yeah. Okay.”

Footfalls thundered up from the outdoor stairway and urgent mumbling. More than one guy. Damn. “Let’s go, Gil,” I said and plunged through the beaded doorway.

No one. But lots of noise down below. I looked over the rail. A white clad black man in a baseball cap looked up and shouted to me, “This way. Come down, mon. It’s safe! Come down!”

The four of us rushed onto the deck and down the rude wooden stairs. The guy in the baseball cap hustled us across a dimly lit yard and we climbed into a pre-war caramel-coloured Hillman-Minx, maybe an Austen. The engine was running. The driver, another black man, said nothing. We exited the grounds and the comical clown car raced through an inky night. In a few minutes we arrived at a lighted village square, actually a circle with a fountain in the center. We slowed to a crawl. Windows down for air, we passed a throng of loitering sullen Africans. Their eyes burned hostile and red in the half light of the village center.

The police station was nothing more than a mobile home on legs, like a contractor’s hut. In the darkness, we climbed three or four steps, pulled open the steel door and entered a grim sanctuary lit green by overhead fluorescent tubes.

The narrow room was barren except for two items: an antique oaken standup desk with a massive domes-day book splayed open upon it, and a gleaming ebony giant of a man resplendent in a crisp, British colonial constable’s uniform. Indifferent to us, he stood at his post, carefully writing entries on the mouldy pages of the old log-book.

The starched white jacket sported gold buttons up the front to a closed high collar. The Sam Brown belt that crossed the man’s impressive chest was of black leather and its holster housed an oversized .45 mm automatic. His black Bermuda-length shorts had a broad red stripe on each side, and just below the knees, white stockings traveled down to a pair of thick-soled patent leather size-twenty brogans. The shiny black bill of an officer’s scarlet cap shaded this imposing creature’s eyes. He stood intent upon his task. I wondered how far back into the mists of history the book’s entries went… Blackbeard? Fourteen-ninety-two?

The man was apparently the entire Police Department of Negril, Jamaica. Okay by me. They could do worse.

The cola-nut cop spoke not a word, but continued his report or whatever he was inscribing. Abruptly, he whispered to the driver who had whisked us away from our paradise. I took the driver to be some sort of auxiliary security bloke.

Finally, the policeman’s attention turned to his American guests. We were addressed individually for our names, please, and asked to recount our description of the incident. The place was an oven. The ebony Mounty seemed cool, impervious to the heat. The rest of us glistened a sickly green in the factory light.

It all took about twenty minutes, give or take five hours, then we shuffled out.

Back at the oasis, we were met at the car by a second white-shirted black rent-a-cop. He spoke in whispers to our driver. I asked, “Did they catch the guy?” The second security guy melted into the night.

“He’s no problem anymore,” replied the driver.

“Did they arrest him?”

“No problem anymore.” He turned and walked to the dwarf car. As he got in, I noticed a pistol grip protruding from his back waistband. Delores and I glanced at each other. The fellow pulled the car door closed. He started the engine, backed a few feet toward us and stopped. His elbow rested on the open window and he flashed us a quick look. “No problem anymore.”
Onward.

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[To be continued...]

Next, Part Two: Fight or Flight.

G.W. and Me ©2014

Anachronistic reflections, in the still of the night by L.E.Taylor

Insomnia has many authors, but mine is often exacerbated by the very remedy I turn to. Lying inert with no inclination to drift off like a normal bloke, I turn for my soporific to reading. Something dry and arcane should work, like history or philosophy; or lyrical and soothing, as poetry.

A week ago, I retrieved from a shelf of fat tomes a wee little chapbook that I thought would do the trick: Rules of Civility and Behaviour in Company and Conversation. It’s a mere essay based upon a 16th century code of conduct which itself had been revised by an Englishman from an earlier screed by a French monk. Oddly, my version was written by a fifteen year old American rock star named George Washington. But, far from tumbling myself into slumber-land, that night began for me a three-night adventure back to colonial America and the earliest days of our Republic.

I’ll spare you excerpts, fascinating and comically anachronistic though they may be – simply trust that I was not lulled to sleep by these one-hundred-ten ground rules. In fact, I was shaken awake to the reality of how our society has coarsened. True, these “rules” were naïve and unattainable even in the 18th century. But today, they are more than just utopian, they are positively Martian!

Here’s the rub. In the course of every day, you and I participate in a cultural swinishness that has virtually degenerated from rudeness to sloth, to indiscriminate contempt and serial disrespect, downward to rank alienation, and now to bloody riots in the streets.

We? you ask. Yes, we. We not only observe the spectacle, we are enablers. Insidiously, we have become infected by anarchy and find ourselves daily involved in behavior undreamed-of by our morally motivated forebears. When we merely curse the barbarians, but do not take defiant action, by arms or by pen, nor in argument with fools, we join impotently in the death-dance of our civilization.

When mute tolerance of the liar and the thug becomes passive avoidance, it is naught but cowardice. (I seem to have lapsed to my inner-eighteenth century man. Egad!) To let hostile, ungodly toxins flow un-confronted in the schools, in the home, in the church, and in the streets only adds to the chaos. Jeer if you will… this demands soul-searching.

Those three nights of vicarious adventure referred to above were not spent only with Washington’s Rules of Civility. As I contrasted the gentle character of The Greatest American with squalid 21st century norms I was prompted to grab once more my well-worn copy of British historian Paul Johnson’s biography, George Washington – The Founding Father.

Dedicated to his American granddaughter, Johnson’s brilliant essay is only 123 pages long. Each time I read it, my conviction is buttressed, that our first president is our finest model of not only leadership, but also of manhood.

G.W. was educated at home in the rudiments of both classical thought and practical living. He attended no college and read no literature published after his young boyhood. But his was a pure soul of powerful scope. Like all genius, his raw talents were nothing less than bottled up energy, in this case, moral. His natural gifts, advanced largely by his own efforts, were mental, spiritual, practical, and physical.

By nineteen, young George was a master land surveyor of the trans-Appalachian wilderness, and a man with clear understanding of the potential of our continent. At six-feet-two, he was a formidable military leader, commissioned at twenty-two by his governor to confront the French diplomatically in his colony’s western lands. His expedition, punctuated by deadly force of arms, resulted in the retreat of France from the Ohio-Mississippi valley, and the sovereignty of England in what would become the United States.

Everyone knows that George Washington was his generation’s all-purpose paragon. A statesman, a general, a self-effacing patriot, and a spectacularly loving family man to his kin as well as to his soldiers, his countrymen, and even to his inherited slaves.

Harumpf.

I have no recourse, in my own humble circumstance, but to compare what I’ve accomplished, punily, in my biblically granted three-score-and-ten.

Conscience, thy name is George.

As I humbly close my copy of Paul Johnson’s book, I’m reminded of an old joke. A man is reprimanding his son for bad grades and personal sloth. Exasperated, he finally barks, “Do you know what Abraham Lincoln was doing when he was your age?”

The boy replies, deadpan, “No, father, but I know what he was doing when he was your age.”

So, gentle reader, let’s chill out. We can still dream can’t we? It ain’t over yet.

 

Onward.

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References

  1. Johnson, Paul, George Washington – The Founding Father, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2005.
  2. The Mount Vernon ladies Association, Geo. Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation, Mount Vernon, VA, 1989.
  3. Taylor, L.E., Surveyor General, LET’S Blog, 20 February, 2014.

Not My Type

Observation on myths of aging, by L.E. Taylor

JUST OPENED A WEBSITE for a company I might want to do business with. Couldn’t read it without jacking the image up to 175 %. Who designs this stuff?

Young people.

Years ago, at least a couple of decades, I was unsettled by an email from a person I’d known in high school. She was complaining about something or other and used a chilling term of despair, “we seniors”. (Italics for irony, mine.)

My immediate response, exclaimed aloud – “What’s with the ‘we’?”

I sat bolt upright and stared at the mute computer screen. “What’s your hurry?” I barked. This was no quaint denial reflex; I was perplexed. Still am.

Let me put it out there for all to know: L.E. Taylor is exactly as young as he thinks. As he moves. As he feels. As he is perceived.

Way too many among us are ready to find excuses to plead old age and quit. Whatever the irritant, whether an ailment or a grievance, a disappointment or some imagined slight to their feelings or affront to their politics, many people who have much to be thankful for are ready to toss in the cards and mope out of the room. The country is lost! The end is coming; we’re gonna die! (Well, that part is true, it came along with the birth certificate.) Why invest in the worst that might happen? Poppycock.

For nearly two years, I’ve been coaching adult writing workshops in the north Dallas area. The original idea was to help an aging generation with their memoir writing. Before launch, it dawned on me that “memoirs” implies a daunting task, even for me, even back in my forties. So I renamed the program “Family Storytelling.” Soon, the descriptor “Great” was added. And that it is: Great Family Storytelling.

If I do say so.

The target audience, of course, was the more seasoned population of, okay…“seniors.” But the objective is not to propose another docile pastime for fogies; it’s to encourage the mental effort and the practical skills needed to write down one’s personal stories in the clear style they deserve, in ways that are a pleasure to read. And to make it fun.

I quickly learned that the process is also, as I’d hoped, psychologically healing to individuals who have a lot of stories sleeping in their attics.

Trouble is, so many have surrendered to entertainment and ease that they are more focused on petty distractions than they are upon their unique legacies to family and kin.

In session number one, I promised students that I would not dumb-down the drill; as a fellow-member of the 30’s generation, I respect their years, but do not see them as sick or stupid. This, I said, will be taught as a college workshop. Nobody walked out.

Over the months, in nearly fifty sessions now, I’ve seen scores of adult students transform from stuck mode to active as they embraced the challenge. Many have arrived at the workshops already overcommitted with retirement activities and stay-at-home duties. Some were dubious about their capabilities and they said so.

Still, they come to their weekly two-hour workouts, equipped by their assigned reading in the best short literature, and ready to share with peers their own hard-sculpted prose. We read our freshly minted work aloud to generational compatriots, and critique each other’s product.

The result is dynamic, much greater than the sum of its humble parts. I’ve watched these individuals thwart their aging, and, as the wizard Merlin did, begin to… youth-en.

THESE ARE “ADULT” classes (the euphemism for grandma and gramps), but many “juniors” have asked to attend. And why not? Well, for one thing, the rookies would be at a disadvantage: Seniors have more material. But we’re all here to learn from each other, right?

Many of my friends are decades younger than my chronological years. Both males and females, they embrace life in diverse ways. College seniors near graduation, millennial graphic designers and musicians, semi-employed actor-waiters, young fast food managers, talented hair cutters and hardworking landscapers; all ethnicities.

With investment of time and attention, some of these I have grown to care about more than a little.

As I consider one or two of my dearest young pals, I sense an electric connection, invisible and subtle. One fellow is a single father of two young girls. One, a poet and song-smith, is lead musician in a rock band that plays in Deep Ellum. A serene young woman is a navy veteran and mathematician, soon to march out again with a new degree to face an uncaring corporate world. They like me. One calls me “LT.” The poet calls me, “man.” She… doesn’t call me, actually.

I’m reminded of my mom Grace, working at a college town department store; she was embraced by a sisterhood of raucous young women. They fed off her energy, her wisdom, and her irreverent humor. She wasn’t an old bag in denial, she was just herself – still young and looking it. She got as much from them as they from her.

I glance at my e-mails. The type fonts are often too tiny to read. Can it be that there are humans who can read 8 point type? Was there a day that I could? (See Ref. #4).

At the liquor store checkout counter today, I adjust my Walmart reading glasses, sign my receipt and ask the girl, “Okay, let’s see some ID.” Huh? “I don’t believe you’re old enough to sell me wine.” She giggles. I tell her I’m just kidding. She replies that she is going on thirty-one, but she’s fibbing; I can see pimples under her makeup. I lift the paper sack and pause. We peer directly at each other. “Take a guess,” I say.

The counter girl squints, chews a lip, blushes, and ventures, “Fifty.”

“Good guess,” I say. And leave.

Onward.

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References

  1. L.E. Taylor, “The Youthening Mind”; LET’sBlog Archives (March 18, 2014).
  2. Great Family Storytelling; promotional brochure; 2014.
  3. L.E. Taylor, Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga; FreesenPress; Victoria B.C., Canada; 2012.
  4. Photo, 1966.