1970: A Non-combatant in The Sexual Revolution

I handed the magazine back to Wayne, then sat for a minute trying to gather my composure. I’d heard about Penthouse but hadn’t actually seen a copy until that morning on the bus. Playboy was one thing, but this new book was overwhelming; not only were the photos a bit more “European”1, a letters section titled “The Forum” described activities that I’d never heard of and probably transgressed criminal law as well as the law of gravity on occasion. To be honest I was feeling more queasy than turned-on and at that point tried to cleanse my visual palette with another recent literary discovery, National Lampoon.

A freshman sitting on the seat ahead of me clicked on a smuggled transistor radio which hissed out at low volume the 1968 party anthem “Bottle of Wine” by The Fireballs. Nothing could illustrate the change society was lumbering through than that song and the group that sang it. Five years earlier they had taken Billboard’s #1 spot with a very innocuous bouncy tune titled “Sugar Shack” which told the traditional boy-meets-girl/falls-in-love/marries-her story. In the midst of the sexual revolution seven years later things had changed. Really changed. Playboy was telling us that rather than holding out for marriage the girl next door wanted to be naughty.  Penthouse was telling us the girl next door wanted to be nasty.

… which other than providing eye-candy did me no good. Granted, from birth I had been a fifty-year-old man in a kid’s body, but I was subject to the same leaping libido that every other teenager had to deal with, and it didn’t help that in the midst of all these changes I lacked any kind of guidance. My parents gave the traditional “birds and the bees” talk a clean miss and the church wasn’t much better. Those lessons always got shoved to the back of the schedule and eventually forgotten. Leaders in the congregation were just as vague, limiting inquires to “Well, Dave, how are your morals?” Again, literal thinker that I was, I figured they were asking about my morale, so I’d respond, “Well, I’m feeling pretty positive about life, so I guess I’m OK”.

It was against this setting that I was faced with one of high school’s milestones – The Prom. I’d endured two and half years of lurid tales about activities during and more importantly after the prom, but for the moment the issue  was not “what to do” but “who to take”. For guys with on-going relationships, getting a prom date was a slam-dunk, but for unattached guys it was arduous task. This was supposed to be one of the major events of high school experience, a rite of passage to be shared with someone special, but at the time there was no one special in my life. Generally speaking my prospects weren’t bad – I wasn’t a nerd-boy outcast but I also wasn’t a sit-at-the-cool-table Big Man On Campus. I had plenty of friends who were girls, but none likely to make the flip from friend-is-a-girl to girlfriend – but as  fate would have it an answer fell into my lap – or rather, it bumped into me when I ran into Bachelorette 12 (hereafter referred to as B1) in the hallway one day. Conversation was not her strong suit and we hadn’t talked much since the Earth Science class we shared during our freshman year but somehow a game of verbal badminton started up as we lobbed the obligatory small-talk questions back and forth:

  • I asked her how school was going.
  • She asked me if I liked being a teacher’s aide in PE.
  • She said she liked my sideburns.
  • I weakly joked that I liked hers3 .

…then I heard a voice asking her if she wanted to go to the prom. I looked around wildly for the guy trying to cut in, then realized it had been my voice doing the asking. I was equally bewildered when she quietly said “yes”, and we suddenly became a semi-couple planning our big night at the prom.

It was also when I started getting a lot of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more” comments from friends, acquaintances, my charges in physical education, and even guys I normally never talked to. Did I mention that B1 was drop-dead gorgeous? She was like a scaled-up Barbie Doll with elfin features, cascading waist-long brown hair and a Coke bottle figure…and usually clad in skirts short enough to have been made in a belt factory. One buddy observed that she was so perfect “she should have “Mattel” stamped on her a** ” then laughed that I’d know if that was the case soon enough.

Sex. The topic that would just not die. I’d spent a lot of time in the boy’s locker room where a lot of talking had gone on. According to the other guys, KCHS was a hotbed of illicit sex, with most of the female students following the lead of the ladies gracing the magazine I’d been reading when the story opened, but there seemed to be little in the way of consequences. Birth control pills had only been in common use for about five years, and in those pre-AIDS days only truck drivers and sailors would admit to carrying condoms. Math was not my strongest subject but even when you factored in that one week out of the month that the young ladies were hors-de-combat it still seemed like KCHS should be awash in out-of-wedlock infants – to the point of requiring a day-care wing off of the cafeteria4.

All that receded into the background as preparations for the big night were being made: coordinating clothes, ordering a corsage, making dinner reservations and double-checking transportation. Finally Prom-day arrived and as was the case with all big events there were both good and not-so-good developments:

The good:

  • Instead of the rattletrap station wagon I would be using the good car.
  • Dad was going to fill the gas-tank for me.
  • My tax refund had arrived so money wouldn’t be a problem.
  • No zits!

The not-so-good:

  • I had a 12:00 midnight curfew.
  • Mom and Dad wanted to meet B1 and take pictures.
  • I’d finally figured out how far away B1 lived and how long I’d be driving that night.

At one fell swoop prom was transformed from a bacchanalian love fest to a road rally of grueling proportions. By the time I drove to pick her up, drove back home for pictures, drove to the Royal Redoubt in Kenai for dinner, drove to the school for the dance, drove her home, and then got back to my home (by curfew) I’d be putting over 150 miles on the odometer that night. I would be spending so much time behind the wheel that there’d be little time for any hanky panky…which had me thinking that my folks were not as clueless about the birds and the bees as they had seemed earlier.

The first leg of my trip went well enough as I drove to pick up flowers and then on to B1’s home. I was pleasantly surprised to see her clad head to toe in pink satin with her wavy brown hair held back in ringlets by a tiara. With her clothes, my fairly new suit, and flowers for both of us, we got some nice pictures after which we sped to the Royal Redoubt for dinner, then on to the school for the dance. As we walked in I was astounded how much a little crepe paper and colored lights could transform a cafeteria into a tropical island paradise, but then some evil person cued up “Crystal Blue Persuasion” on the sound system and my suppressed vomit reflex brought me back to reality.

Without further ado we went out on the floor and started to dance…while I may not have been much of an athlete at the time, my inner Celt definitely knew how to cut a rug. The cut of B1’s formal limited us to mostly slow songs and while I am not a “bear-hug” slow dancer I do snuggle up a bit, which in this case nearly caused an injury when her petite size put the spines of her tiara right at eye-level for me.

…then it all seemed to be over much too quickly, and it was time to go home. I stayed calm until we got into the car, at which point I started into my repertoire of obscure historical puns which meant I was extremely nervous. It was bad enough that delivering B1 to her house then getting home by curfew would require time travel, but I also had to contend with B1 herself sitting next to me and basically being stunning. The smell of her perfume, the rustle of satin and whissst as she adjusted her wrap – hell, even that damn tiara all conspired with her innate foxiness to turn my knees into rubber and made me oh-so- thankful I wasn’t driving a standard transmission that night.

Then as we pulled out on the highway and headed south she snuggled up against me kind of under my right arm. As we quietly talked about the dance she leaned her head on my shoulder (requiring yet another tiara dodge) and I could feel her breath on my neck all of which had my inner monologue cycling through, “What do I want? What does she want? WHAT DO I DO” ,when she abruptly  nodded to a road5 leading off the highway to the left and said “Hmm? I wonder where that goes to?”

BINGO!

By this time it was dark, and as I turned to B1 and strained to make out her expression in the dim light of the instrument panel I saw what seemed to be a beckoning smile, so I leaned in to kiss her…right on the bridge of her nose. I sat back, looked at the make-up smudge on my lapel then up at the wistful look in her face. She leaned in against my shoulder, reached up for my wide-as-a-glider lapel and simply said, “Oh Dave” in a way that made me know that for me those letters to Penthouse would continue to be fiction…and I was relieved. We talked for a while until a reference to the magazine slipped out, a slip that I feared would destroy the mood until B1 wrinkled her nose and said, “Tell me about it – my sisters are always shoving Cosmo6 in my face!”

We shared a quip or two on the subject as I pulled out of the subdivision and took her home, and I thought about it as I covered that last stretch to the ranch. By its very nature the whole boy/girl sex issue was perplexing, especially with all the social changes that had come about in the past five or six years but relying on the magazine’s “philosophy” would just confuse the issue even more.

Through it all I learned that:

  1. The development of any relationship can’t be rushed.
  2. Most stories are just that…stories.
  3. My best reality check ever is the thought of missing B1’s lips and kissing her nose.

 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. Un-airbrushed photos taken “south of the equator” which at first glimpse destroyed my friend Mark’s dream of someday becoming a “lady’s (bleep) barber”.
  2. Bachelorette 1 introduced in 1971…and then Dave discovered girls.
  3. Wispy little locks of hair from roughly her temples to just short of her earrings. I loved them then and I still do now – check my sketch book and you’ll find them on every girl in the book.
  4. It was like the stories guys told about fighting – every guy that admitted to fighting also swore “he’d never started a fight but he’d never lost one.” Again, simple math meant (given our fairly small student body) if all these guys were winning all the time there must be one or two bandaged, scarred and toothless wretched young men who habitually lost to everyone else in the school.
  5. See 1969: Sisyphus and Light Tactical Vehicles. It was the road into the same subdivision Jim, and I pushed his jeep all over in.
  6. Cosmopolitan – a magazine wherein Helen Gurley Brown advocated an outlook for women that was basically a mirror-image to Hugh Hefner’s philosophy for men.

A Painful Lesson

Eight months ago I moved my studio from a shoebox sized sitting room off the kitchen to the much roomier bonus room on the second floor. There were several reasons for the move, not the least being the good vibes I get in sitting in a room resembling my attic loft back in Sterling. The move also forces me to negotiate a set of stairs at least four times a day, providing the exercise that is too easy for me to avoid given the chronic pain I deal with.

Sometimes the stairs provide more than exercise. When I went to visit the second-floor bathroom this afternoon I found that there was no tissue to be found anywhere, which prompted me to head downstairs for the hall bathroom. I had no sooner started down the steps when I slipped/tripped/mis-stepped which caused me to fall down the rest of the flight. As I was bouncing between the banister and the opposite wall I kept waiting for that avalanche of pain that accompanies a fracture but evidently judo and jump school taught me how to fall correctly and so far the only damage I’ve found is some pretty ugly bruises.

I’ve been murmuring continual quiet prayers to myself – this could have gone SO badly for me but so far the only damage is to Jaybug’ s eardrums when I set a record for consecutive “son of a bitch” utterances. The incident also taught me one very important lesson:

“Always keep the upstairs bathroom stocked with toilet paper!”

Wheels!

Big day for my Star Pupil yesterday. Our next door neighbor Wes very graciously bought a bike for him at a local yard sale and the little guy has been in wheeled-transportation heaven since then.

It’s had me thinking back to my first bike and the incredible sense of freedom it gave me – my hunting grounds quadrupled in area by late afternoon of day one. It’s quite a different world now so I don’t think we’ll be quite was hands-off as my folks were, but it will still be interesting  to observe the impact two wheels and a chain bring about in Jaybug’s life.

I Am The Axe-Man!

Ax-man

Every weekend my Star Pupil and I try something new and this week it was use of an ax. It was a skill that really wasn’t on the schedule but a box of tools I recently gave him unfortunately included a sort of multi-tool-on-steroids that inexplicably included an ax blade…and as anyone with kids will  tell you glaciers can be moved by hand before you’ll get a five-year-old boy to change his mind about something like this.

After a safety briefing we spent about forty-five minutes in the shop chopping away and eventually produced the sundered one-by-two you see in this photo. The process could have been faster but one too many roadrunner cartoons convinced him logs literally jump into with one direct chop with an axe held straight on. I’d demonstrate alternate chopping at an angle but then he’d politely correct me and attempt to bludgeon the board in half.

We finally succeeded in parting the one-by-two and now he’s out with his mom visiting friends while I am busy hiding every other cutting implement before he gets back.

Coming Attractions

(Be honest – after reading that title visions of  anthropomorphic movie snacks dancing across the screen while singing “Let’s all go to the lobby…” popped into your head.)

If it seems like new material has been a bit sparse lately you’re not mistaken – I’ve been caught up in some other endeavors that have taken me away from my keyboard.  Some of these activities involve visual art, but my biggest iron in the creative fire is a book project that should see print sometime between now and the Fourth of July. It involves reworking my stories from 1962 to 1967 into a volume dealing with growing  up in Alaska in the 1960s.

More than that I’d rather not say, other than it will be available in both e-book and dead-tree versions. I’m also doing the cover and interior spot illustrations.

I will keep you posted.

Square Peg 2.0

My sister Robin and I both spent most of our teens out of step with our own generation.  I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why that happened – it could have been the frequent moves, our parent’s influence or our own inclination – but at the end of the day it worked out simply that we had more in common with our parents’ generation than our own.

It made for some interesting experiences in the classroom and I’ve often wondered what life would have been like had I fallen in line with the rest of my fellow post-peak Baby Boomer peers. I wonder about that because I see the same thing happen with my Star Pupil AKA my grandson Jayden. He gets more time around grandparents than most kids – a slightly skewed experience that will be even more skewed because of my own square-peg-round-hole experience.

For example – his experience with personal electronics differs from that of his friends. Oh, we still have to use a crowbar to peel him away from phones and tablets, but he also has plenty of non-digital influences surrounding him. Case in point is his tool kit. He’s intensely interested in my activities so in an effort to preserve my own tool kit I’ve made up a set of his own, to include a hammer, pliers, some odd combination wrenches and both types of screwdrivers. I’ve also prepared a two-by-four with pre-drilled holes and several screws of both standard and Phillips flavors.

I think he may come out of my youth a little more “handy” than most kids his age.

JaydenTools1

 

Velma Howell 1935-2019

(It seems like the punchline to an old Henny Youngman joke, but I actually was asked to deliver the eulogy at my mother-in-law’s funeral over the weekend.)

Leading the way into any endeavor involves what we referred to as “spiritual growth” in the mission field and “good training” in the Army, both of which are innocuous terms for an experience that will terrify or put you through an emotional wringer. Being the first to marry into the Howell family brought on plenty of spiritual growth for me. The first time Velma laid eyes on me was at the gate in Dulles Airport twelve hours before I was to marry her oldest daughter Lori and I think the prospect of relinquishing her eldest to some wild man from Alaska was causing some concern.

She was quite vocal about the situation and would cycle through admonishing, questioning and teasing me, which was beginning to wear thin when it all came to a head a week later here in Huntsville. We were out buying paper goods and plastic ware for the reception and as we were driving around town Velma decided to share her philosophy on family relations. She said ” I like to think that I have gathered my family into a shiny bubble away from the world and its influences, where we are all happy all the time and nothing bad ever happens.”

As I sat in the back seat all I could think was “This chick is nuts”

It was an understandable reaction, given all the wisdom and insight I’d gained in my twenty-four years on earth as the oldest son in the family that put the “fun” into dysfunctional. Most of my family experiences involving shiny things also included pop-tops or lines on a mirror so I had no way of knowing that what Mom was really saying was

  • She loved her family and wanted the best for them.
  • She loved the Lord and wholeheartedly embraced every aspect of the Gospel

That was the pattern for her entire life. She was born and raised in southern California first San Bernardino then Colton where her family first met the missionaries when she was quite young – a trend that continued until she was almost twenty-one when she snagged one particular missionary by the name of Elder Howell as he was headed home. As a young lady she worked awhile as switchboard operator but once she was married her life’s work was being an excellent mother for her five children and supporting or serving alongside her husband in his callings as stake president, mission president and counselor in a temple presidency.

Outside of her family the Gospel was her whole life and she led a life of worship and devotion that is an example to us all. Look up the term “stalwart saint” in the bible dictionary and you’ll probably find her picture. Sometimes that degree of devotion can cause a person to become overly serious with that stern Bruce R. McConkie eagle-eyed look but Mom was able to keep a pleasant demeanor – and laugh.

She loved to laugh and could be quite a tease – but there were other things she loved as well.

She loved:

  • ice cream,
  • quilting
  • flowers
  • ice cream
  • birds
  • kaleidoscopes
  • Ice cream.

More than anything else she loved her husband Parley and was at this side whenever she could  be there…. in fact the words Parley and Velma Howell should be just one word “PARLEYANDVELMAHOWELL”.

I will miss her laugh and I will miss her.  Regardless of our faith we all have that inner Cro-Magnon straining to howl at the separation of death. But because of that faith we know that Mom is blessedly free from pain and much happier now that she was in the shiny place she always sought in life.

So…Run free Mom. We love you,

 

 

Music: Ghost of A Chance (Rush)

 

Teaching at Lincoln Memorial University was a good news/bad news type of situation. On one hand the school’s expectations weren’t too high, I had a tremendous amount of freedom in the way I handled my class and there were  a few fairly competent students. On the other hand the pay was terrible, the administration gave scant support and most of the art majors avoided my class because I actually expected them to work.

I just told myself I was fortunate to be teaching somewhere.

Capping it all was the miserable commute: while the school was located only 50 miles to the northeast there were several ridges and valleys to transit, and I spent as much time going up and down as I did moving forward. My schedule also had me returning to town in the middle of the evening rush hour which made the last 5 miles as tedious as the preceding 45.

It was a wet, sloppy evening in early November, I was tired and cold, and it was a strain to see through the rain and slow-moving traffic. Struggling to stay awake and alert, I turned on the radio and tuned into the local classic rock station – which like every classic rock station ever had a playlist shorter than a five-year old’s attention span.

I was surprised – instead of hearing the inevitable “Freebird” or “Stairway to Heaven” a young man was talking about Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, a topic which caught my attention in the same way dog whistle rattled a collie. I’d discovered Jung in graduate school, became intrigued with this work, and worked at integrating some of his concepts into my thesis project but just as I was piecing together what was being said, the speaker stopped, and the song he had been so long in introducing started to play.

Electric guitars shot out a very basic but compelling tune which repeated  like a car alarm, accentuating the tension and stress of the surrounding traffic. Negotiating this nerve-wracking commute had my pulse pounding so hard I could hear it in my inner ear and when a vocalist suddenly started to sing it took me a moment to hear past the thub-thub-thub.

Like a million little doorways
All the choices we made
All the stages we passed through
All the roles we played

 There was no mistaking that voice: Geddy Lee, which meant I was listening to the Canadian rock trio Rush, most appropriate for my situation as I didn’t have the soundtrack for Mad Max in my CD player. Lee continued to sing, his voice getting more forceful and strident:

Somehow we find each other
Through all that masquerade
Somehow we found each other
Somehow we have stayed

 Voice and instrument continued to build to a point of frenzy, then suddenly it was like cresting a mountain or going into free-fall:

In a state of grace

Languid guitar chords lead into a restful interlude devoid of the song’s previous intensity::

I don’t believe in destiny
Or the guiding hand of fate
I don’t believe in forever
Or love as a mystical state

 The cardiac pounding in my ear eased off as I relaxed a bit

But I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last
And make it last

Guitar chords echoed and a feeling of calm continued to envelope me, but then the chaos abruptly renewed with strident vocals and crashing guitar chords once more

Like a million little crossroads
Through the back streets of youth
Each time we turn a new corner
A tiny moment of truth

The quiet, calm returned:

In a state of grace

I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last

This time when the pattern broke  the lead guitar began an improvisational guitar solo that caused my heart to sing as well.  It  also helped me  tune out the lurching/honking/swerving and I was startled to find myself on the last leg from the freeway to my home, free of the tension and chaos of rush hour as the song returned from the solo to the calm of the dreamy interludes:

I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last

…which transitioned into a measure or two of a slightly mournful, slightly wistful echoing guitars. I pulled into the driveway, turned off the engine and sat listening to the tick-tick-tick of the cooling engine. Rush was not a particular favorite group of mine; while I had respect for their talent and dedication, their music and their message usually did not resonate with me … but I had no doubt that at this point Ghost of A Chance was stealth scripture – truth given in an unexpected manner that would have otherwise been ignored, and at this very low point in my life it contained a very important message for me.

Tomorrow morning I would get up bright and early and face another week head on:

  • submitting job applications to colleges sure to ignore me
  • canvassing art directors who routinely told me I was too old
  • worshipping in a congregation that cornered the market on cliques
  • teaching students who regarded study as a process akin to hustling free t-shirts at a concert

….but right now as I walked in the door…

You know I read somewhere that the onion is a distant relative to the opium poppy. Maybe that’s why I felt calm and happy as I walked into the house,  maybe I was getting a contact high as Lori was browning onions in preparation for making soup, but I knew there was more to the warmth I felt. I drew it all in as I shelved my teaching binder and hung up my coat: music was softly playing on the stereo and my sons had their yearbook open, scoping out the young ladies while conducting a post-game wrap-up of the Oldest Game Ever. Wrapped in the warmth of my family I felt the very essence of joy.

It may be that life was getting the best of me, that the academic and creative arenas in which I fought daily were more than a forty-year man could handle, but as long as I had this wonderful home and family as a place of refuge I had a chance, albeit a ghost of a chance.


___________________________________________________________________________

“Ghost of Chance” Songwriters: Neil Peart / Geddy Lee / Alex Lifeson

 

 

Lonely Nights….

Good morning mister sunshine, you brighten up my day
Come sit beside me in your way
I see you every morning, outside the restaurants
The music plays so nonchalant

Lonely days, lonely nights.
Where would I be without my woman?

It was several years before the Brothers Gibb switched to size small jockeys and started shrieking “Ah-ah-ah-ah stayin’ alive” that I first heard their earlier song Lonely Nights. It was the middle of an Alaskan winter, I was a senior in high school in between girlfriends and feeling lonely as only a seventeen-year-old can know…and I had no idea that there would come a day where I daily dealt with an even deeper state of alone-ness.

Please excuse the pun but I am not alone in this matter. The 11 January issue of THE WEEK magazine contains an article that hit very close to home for me, an article entitled:  “An Epidemic of Loneliness”. It cites multiple studies from around the world that all conclude that a LOT of us are lonely and it doesn’t do us one bit of good.

Connections have been found between loneliness and:

  • Mental issues like insomnia, depression and
  • Physical issues like increased risk for heart attack and weakened immune system
  • Social issues like increased political polarization.

There are plenty of reasons for this increased state of isolation to include the breakdown of the family unit, the often-transient nature of work and the emotional pitfalls found in social media. I’ve seen it in my own life – thirty years ago in addition to my family and local friends I had a circle of about twenty people I would routinely correspond with but now contact from anyone other than my Beautiful Saxon Princess and one or two friends is very sporadic.

I’m not going to snivel about how lonely I get slaving away in my studio, but I would like to suggest that you take a moment each day and think about those friends and relatives that might be shut-in or otherwise isolated. We live in perilous times and while so many of the terrors that lurk in our lives seem insurmountable (taking away my old aerosol cans won’t make a bit of difference to the ozone layer) this a problem that individually we can actually do something about.

It brings to mind a story I heard of  a man who’d walk along the beach at low tide to pick up stranded starfish and throw them back in the water. He was told “ You’re just wasting your time – there are thousands of stranded critters! Do you really think you’re making any difference?”  to which the man replied (after replacing yet another starfish):

 “I made a difference to that one!”

OK – so my inner hippie is showing, but please, please pick up the phone, tap at your keyboard or write a letter to that invalid uncle, your old room-mate who’s now a single mom, your high school buddy who’s now a widower – anyone that you know who’s fighting to get through each day alone.

Tuesday’s Reflection on Monday’s Isolation

As much as I hoped otherwise there was a price to be paid for the work we did around the house this past weekend. I woke up Sunday feeling as though an icepick had been shoved through my right knee, and by Monday morning I was wondering if I would ever walk unassisted again in this life (which was a kind of “d’oh!” moment inasmuch as I have been using a cane for well over a decade now). I’ve made a habit of keeping a work-satchel handy but neither the sketch pads or laptops seemed to hold my attention while I forced myself to sit still and heal a bit.

I spent the time thinking.

One of my older friends insists  that I was born out of my time, that I’d be happier in Ancient Greece when ) “people just sat around and thought all the time”. I am partial to things like indoor plumbing, cushioned seating and heavier-than-air flight so I doubt I’d take a trip back in time were it possible, but there is something to be said about living a less-cluttered, less cacophonous life.

At this point I’d settle for just being able to go the corner store and buy a packet of Necco wafers.