Freddie, the French Bulldog

Freddie, the French Bulldog
Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
Beautiful Ellie Mae

Ollie Mac helps Papi

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother

Love is a many-splendored thing

Love is a many-splendored thing
Denise and Ollie Mac

Taco Tuesday

Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby

blue heron

blue heron
water colors

hollyhocks get a visitor

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Make-A-Wish

This is the first of three parts, chronicling the three-week odyssey five of us took, leaving late the same night we swaggered across the stage. 

As life events go, striding across Bishop Amat’s stage at graduation was enormous, providing memories these fifty-one years. As liberating as the moment was, another life event also commenced for me on May 31st, 1970, one that was to provide far more memories-and freedom-than leaving Amat. I embarked on a three-week journey of discovery with four fellow graduates, bound for the Northland. 

John Hartnett, Glen Wass and I planned the voyage from as early as mid-winter, essentially treating it as a fantasy. Since when were the parents likely to buy this pipe dream? Chatting it up and pondering the logistics of a post-graduation odyssey, we framed our ideas into a plan of action. In doing so we found ourselves joined by Steve Haskell and Bill McCluney, who were intrigued by our idea of a graduation-day getaway. Our mode of transportation was Glen’s white, ’64 Ford Econoline van, with no side windows and a solid rack up-top to transport our gear. 


Camping is what we had planned on, but our overnight sleeping accommodations included a variety of unorthodox venues. We spent one night in the vestry of a church, one in the heated bathroom of a brand new, as-of-yet-unopened resort in the mountains of Eastern Oregon, and one night in the parking lot of a K-Mart, just because it was there.


The top o' the morning to you!
Three of us had awakened inside the van that morning, in the deserted parking lot, and were contemplating the universe in general, while Bill and Steve remained dead to the world in their sleeping bags on the ground right outside the van.  With speakers in each door, when fully opened, those speakers were aimed right at the two sleeping beauties. What better song to greet the new morning with (at full volume) than the Beatles’ “Good Morning, Good Morning?” Up and at ‘em, lads!




Now Steve’s dad owned a grocery store, so hey, that was his ticket to ride; we could buy supplies at cost. And high on Bill’s list of qualifications were his mad skills as a driver. We would end up traveling more than 3,000 miles, so Bill was welcomed aboard.

I did not have a license and because I was so small, I sat most of those 3,000 miles on the engine cover between the driver’s and passenger seats. In those pre-seat belt years, it seemed so natural. Now? Not so much. 


We made lists, gathered supplies, organized our camping gear, met with the parents and had the Marquess of Queensbury rules dictated to us. These included but were not restricted to a) absolutely no consorting with females; b) attending mass on Sunday mornings and c) no alcoholic beverages whatsoever. Make no mistake: The greatest of these was A. There were to be no chicks, no foxes, no babes, no chicas, no tatas, no chickadees, no hoochies, no floozies, no arm candy and no home girls. 


For the record we did attend mass on Sundays.


Tall Oly's:
Who knew why?
The general consensus was that 16-ounce Olympia Beers were not really alcohol, right? Not like Ezra Brooks Real Sippin’ Whiskey, but that’s a tale for another time. As for consorting with the female species, all we could do was wish. We had no control over that.

Honestly.


How were we to know that our seven home-girls would take it upon themselves to read our minds, and then journey up from SoCal to Plaskett Creek Campground, in the neighborhood of Big Sur? To meet up with us? For a whole weekend? We hadn’t even included this component in our wildest fantasies while planning our adventure. 


OK, that last bit is obviously a lie.


We did get a postcard somewhere along the line informing us of the plan, but what were we supposed to do? How could we have prevented this rendezvous at Plaskett Creek with these seven girls, even if we actually wanted to? It never occurred to us to try and stop them. This was beyond a dream come true-sorry parents-but there was nothing we could really do. 


Where was email when we really needed it? Oh, yeah. And no texting or messaging, either. And yes we could have phoned-everyone knew that after eight the rates dropped-and talked to one of the girls. We could have tried to convince the girls it was a bad idea to come up for three days of sun, fun and celebration of freedom from Amat. 


Yes, we most certainly could have and probably should have, I guess. I mean, maybe. Wouldn’t that have been the right thing to do? According to our parents? We just didn’t know. Not for sure. And besides, we justified matters by simply decreeing that it was out of our hands. I mean it really was. Wasn’t it?


Next: "Goin' Mobile"




 





Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Check Point

 



Not all lessons were learned in the classroom at Bishop Amat, and not all knowledge was imparted by the good nuns and priests. Sometimes, lessons were learned within the hallowed halls themselves, with knowledge being passed along by none other than the ASB President, himself.

Back in the day, you could identify a Bishop Amat student by the sunlight glinting off the shaven sides of his head or by the length of her skirt. Facial hair was strictly verboten, as were short skirts, because school officials were determined to create the prototypical clean-cut student image. This meant no sideburns, and skirts were to be worn at knee length or lower. School officials wanted community members to be able to identify a group of high schoolers as Amat students from a block away, simply by looking at them.

Just as desperately, students wanted the opposite: We wanted to be normal. The angst-it was great, as we looked around and saw schools everywhere relaxing their grip on dress standards. There were even high schools with administration-sanctioned smoking walls.


Amat’s dress code had no impact on me because I was required to be clean-cut to work at Sunrize Market anyway, but clothes were an entirely different matter. No Levis or cords meant we had to wear dress pants to school, which is why my cut of a phat paycheck from Sunrize Market, found me down at the local strip mall, spinning clothes racks inside Greene’s [Fine] Menswear.


Ah, Greene’s, where I bought those flashy yellow, corduroy bell bottoms I found so styin’. Greene’s, where a dude had a fighting chance to cruise out with some serious threads, if he could afford the price of poker. Well, I wasn’t working at least thirty hours a week to help support the household, contrary to Mama’s beliefs. I was working for menswear.


My hand paused in mid-spin on the clothes rack, working in cahoots with my eyes, as a pair of checkered brown sports slacks derailed my train of thought. I know now it was derailed because like a magnet, my eyes were then drawn towards a smartly styled dress shirt, yellow, but not bright like my bells. And oh, yeah. It was also checkered. 


They matched splendidly, I thought. Look at me go!


And so it was that I appeared at school the following Monday, decked out in my new duds, desperately trying to embody an air of nonchalance. As one whose perpetual goal at school was flying below the radar, this was heady stuff, and I was ready for some acknowledgement of my fashion statement.


Always at my beck and call, the cosmos responded accordingly, and what I wished for came true. Unfortunately, once the spotlight was upon me, I saw the light.


When morning break finally arrived, I headed out to The Cage to rustle up an ice cream sandwich On this particular Monday I varied my route to include passage through the wing of the school that housed the library. When I emerged on the other side, I was dead center on the girls’ side of the school, just as the doctor ordered.


I was a rainbow trout swimming amongst a school of minnows, but I tried not to strut, figuring I didn’t need to. I was right about that because I stood out like a halogen light, rendering the aforementioned spotlight moot. Danged if I didn’t spot Rudi Brutocao, someone who was no stranger to style, and the perfect person to validate my good taste. 


Rudi was a classmate of mine.


He was leaning back against the metal bar that ran the length of the sidewalk heading toward The Cage, flanked on either side by attractive coeds. I had never once dallied along this sidewalk, while leaning back against this bar. If only Rudi would see and acknowledge my fashion savvy, right in front of these sweet young things, I could feast on my ice cream sandwich with relish.


Ask and ye shall receive, smirked the cosmos. Rudi did notice me-I could see it in his eyes, which widened noticeably (appreciatively, I was certain) as I approached. Without actually moving his head, he surveyed me and my outfit-from head to toe-and back again. His look was speculative, pensive even. If I were worried that I wouldn't be noticed, I needn’t have.


Rudi made eye contact with me, and I thought to myself, “Voila! Here it comes, serious respect from The Man, Himself.”


“Check on check,” was what Rudi actually said, and he nodded, curtly, as though in approval. What else could it have meant? And then he added a single word, which I found, well, puzzling. “Interesting…”


And that was it. No big ups for a job well done and no hoot of derision or snide barb, just that single word. What the heck did that mean, I wondered? Interesting… What was interesting about-


Oh. It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, made heavier by the presence of the girls: Check on check was a fashion faux pas, an unqualified disaster, and I had just been schooled by Rudi, in front of all those girls.


Could the sidewalk just open up right now and swallow me whole?


But here’s the deal. As mortified as I felt, I could not help recognizing that the Big Guy had taken pity on me. Let’s face it, Rudi had no need to harpoon me; he was above that. I’d been skewered routinely all my high school career, probably for similar transgressions, and yet, this morning I had been spared.


Rudi had sounded the alarm, but so gently as to have allowed me to glean a critical piece of fashion sense, without having to pick myself up off the ground, metaphorically speaking, after being knocked down once again. 


Take that, Louis Vuitton: There is a God.











Thursday, June 3, 2021

True Confessions: I Was A Dork

Writing these pieces in light of the upcoming reunion, has allowed me to reflect back-favorably-on high school, a block of time that I tried to stifle for most of my adult life. I have also drawn a few conclusions as to why it was so challenging for me.


I have mentioned the nuns who taught us at St. Martha’s and how they were expelled from Cuba in 1962 by Fidel Castro. I liked them all but they were also native Spanish speakers teaching elementary school while getting English instruction “on the job.”


I felt my peers saw 6th grade
Mark when they looked at me.
Without criticizing the limited resources of our fledgling parish, I focus only on the quality of education we got leading up to our time at Bishop Amat. Can you say, “Read de book and answer de questions at de end of de chapter?” I know you can-try it.


Yes, I picked up some Spanish, but our classes were devoid of any kind of art or music, and we had one period of physical education per week. How reasonable was it to expect that our teachers were going to be very informed about our own country?


My point is the work was not challenging, straight A’s were automatic and it led to a rude awakening in high school. I went into freshman year expecting to continue in cruise-mode, and discovered the priests were not there to hand out A’s just because you wrote your spelling words ten times and did the math worksheets.


To me the academic orbit was
simply dizzying.

While objectively seeing that we were being well-prepared for higher education, subjectively it was tortuous. Stop me if you ever wondered in passing, while choking back frustration, how it was that none of your teachers ever seemed to realize that you got homework in at least three or four other classes. Sophomore year I had geometry, biology, Latin and English homework every night of my school life, with little respite on the weekend. Oh yeah, while working thirty hours a week.


As a kid who was thrust into the honors program [almost certainly] on the basis of my older brothers’ academic success, I hated it. 


As an educator who spent sixteen years teaching middle schoolers, I think grouping kids by alleged ability is just wrong. I no more belonged in the honors group than I belonged on the gridiron. Too bad it wasn’t just as obvious to school officials. Might there have been others?


Who knew?
There is not enough cyber ink and paper for me to list all of the reasons why ability-grouping is bad. I will at least note that I missed out on getting to know most of my peers, both male and female, by being segregated in this manner. 


Academically, I was at rock bottom in math and science my first three years, disappointing my parents and frustrating me no end. I couldn’t help but think if I were not competing for grades with the top male students in the school, I might have had a fighting chance.


Instead, I anchored that learning curve, pun intended.


All things considered, though I was not a jock, a brainiac, a cheerleader, a doper, a loner, a troublemaker, a space cadet, a punchbag, a nerd, a surfer, a criminal, a fink, a dork or just plain twisted, I managed to make my way through the maze and the haze to graduation.


OK, I may have been a dork, but I preferred to think of it as being individualistic. Let’s face it, individualism is to being a dork, what being eccentric is to bat-shit crazy, no offense to those who are experiencing the perks of mental issues. My personal gift is bipolarism II, but then again, I have already posted more than a hundred pieces on this site to that effect. 


I ain’t proud but I ain’t skeered either.


Among my circle of friends outside Amat were kids who went to Bassett, Covina, West Covina, Edgewood, Nogales, La Puente, and probably a few more I left out. When it came to bragging rights, I suddenly seemed to forget about the shortcomings I encountered at Amat, as I stood a bit taller and did not have to say a word. 


They knew. If anything, friends would ask me what we were ranked that week. If those kids ever saw their school win a championship, it was a one-year flash, unlike Amat, which perennially gave its students much to strut about. Whereas losing the 4-A football championship game by a single point to Blair was crushing, we had nothing to hang our heads about. At least we were there.


Besides, going out as 4-A champions in baseball, days before graduation, made up for it. Those who were at that last game must remember Bart’s cannon of an arm trying to gun down a base stealer, but finding his pitcher’s head, instead. Frank dropped like a log, but got up and went on to finish the game. This is not a diss on Bart; you don’t get to the championship game without the Pro from Dover behind the plate. It’s a shout-out to a battery which managed to not only overcome this mishap to score a 2-1 victory for the championship, but simultaneously present to us seniors a lasting metaphor as we left high school. When you get knocked down in life, stagger back to your feet, and kick butt. 


It was certainly a most electrifying event at the moment, and served as an inspiration to us all. I think I can say with a 100% degree of accuracy, that each of us has been knocked down since then, and yet here we are, making plans for our reunion. 


Do you feel as though you have gone ten rounds yet? Yeah, me too, but look at it this way, you either get back up or you don’t, and going to the reunion is as good a way as any to thumb your nose at the referee.











 


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Good Teacher-Bad Teacher

Judging from the comments left on earlier pieces, we may not remember much about Bishop Amat High School from more than fifty years ago, but we have not forgotten our teachers. What Sister Declan was to short skirts, Father Luke was to long sideburns.


Contrary to the title of this piece, I don’t think I had any bad teachers, just teachers who had bad days, (Thanks Mary McCarty). Mary wrote in the comments of “A Squared Plus B Squared” that she gave detention to a girl for “looking out the window,” on a day when she had just “had it.”


When Father Aidan
smiled at me, I either 
ducked or ran.
I once earned three days of detention from Father Aiden for not completing the last sentence on a grammar assignment. Excuse me for living and breathing. On the other hand, I wrote a referral and assigned my own sixth grade son detention, during his first week in my class, for the dastardly deed of chewing gum. I couldn’t just have busted him and issued him a warning? No, it was “Welcome to middle school, Son, and the special hell of having your dad as your teacher-for four periods a day. For three years” Sigh. 

For me and my sister Jt, who was a junior In my last year, Amat was academically challenging. That being said, the foundation provided for me, led to a fascination with the etymology of the English language. At SJSU I took four classes on Old English, a class on Chaucer (Middle English) and four classes on Shakespeare (Modern English), due in part to being exposed to the classics all four years I attended Amat.


Father Argue
The program Father Argue (pronounced Ar-guee) offered was top shelf. He was not a confrontational man and there was never a time I felt he took out frustrations on his students, unlike the aforementioned Father Aidan.

I had a love/hate relationship with Father Aidan: I loved to hate him. He was the type of teacher who demanded more of yourself than what you had to offer, which can be a good thing, but mostly was not. When you came up short of his lofty expectations, he nailed you to the cross.


As a class we read twenty-six novels freshman year, and I can remember most of them. We had two weeks to read "David Copperfield," but I loved it. I have every novel Dickens wrote in my home library.


The first week of freshman year, Father Aidan took our English class on a tour of the library, emphasizing that we should be taking notes. I have an issue processing information through my ears, so I bombed the ensuing quiz. What resulted was a “cinch notice” informing my parents that I was earning a D in English and was in danger of failing.


Life at home got a lot tougher that quarter.


Father Benedict
I saw Father Benedict’s photo and instantly knew I had had him as a teacher, but it took looking under his photo to remember he taught Spanish. He was comical and made Spanish fun. After two years of Latin, and six years of Spanish at St. Martha’s, I did not even have to crack the book to get A’s. 

Then there was Father Marion, whose photo does not appear in Tusitala ’70, so he was gone by then. I liked him, he told funny stories about Africa and he genuinely tried to impart Algebra I to me. Unfortunately, that pesky inability to process info through my ears, bit me in that part of my brain I sit on. I flailed at Algebra, without failing, probably because Father Marion remembered my oldest brother Eric fondly. 


I know he remembered Eric because he used to ask me why I wasn’t more like Eric, but whatcha gonna do?


Specifically, what I do remember Father Marion saying on multiple occasions (as the need arose) was, “Don’t you boys know that when you cheat, it’s like eating someone else’s vomit? (Voice rising dramatically on last four words…) But you boys don’t give a damn. Why, I remember when I was in Africa, those little African boys used to say, ‘Teach us more, Father!’ But you boys just don’t give a damn…” (Voice dropping dramatically on four last words, almost to a whisper). Unfortunately, the moral lesson he was attempting to convey through such a gross simile, fell on deaf ears. Weird, I know.

Father Deyo
Contrast Father Luke with Father Deyo, both religion teachers, one of whom I liked immensely, the other, not so much.


Father Luke (to us sophomores, in a thunderous voice) “You will rot in HELL for ALL ETERNITY for acts of self-abuse.” He confused me for a minute with “acts of self abuse.” The man could not even say the word, “masturbation.’


Father Deyo on the other hand, while describing his experiences in South Korea (where I would end up spending sixteen months) during the Korean War: “We used to go to Tokyo for I and I."


Us, “What’s I and I?"


Father: "Intoxication and intercourse.” Do you see what I mean?


Flash impressions:


Coach Cantwell: (Varsity football head coach and freshman history teacher, to Kevin O’Brien) “I hear you are quite the debater, Kevin! Does that make you a master debater?” Never was there a questioned asked in such a dead-panned manner. I remember Coach Cantwell coming into our class at St. Martha’s, recruiting football players (His son Philip was in my class). Coach Cantwell had no interest in me.

Sister Miriam (physical science, freshman year. NOT Sister Genevieve who I never heard anything bad about.) Sister Miriam was young but she was a cold-hearted orb who ruled her classroom with an iron fist, in a whisper. (Er, that oral processing difficulty...)


Mr. Hemenway: Mild-mannered, definitely an advocate for students, and best of all, former classmate at Amat of my oldest brother, Eric. Besides, I understood geometry, the only math class I ever experienced any success at. Mr. H was lucky enough to be in the right place, at the right time. 


Father Barry: A grand teacher, unless you happen to get caught cheating. Then it takes a minute to get out of the doghouse. (Sorry about the cheating, Father Marion.)

Father Loius: (Any time inappropriate language popped up) “Gimmee quarter.” That was it. He took the quarter (or you paid him the next day) and put it in a jar “for the missions.” The cynical side of me wonders if the “mission” were possibly beer for the weekend, but that’s preposterous.


Everyone knows the Sacred Heart Fathers did not imbibe.


Mr. Carmon Cabeza, Jr: (Spelling?) Mr. C taught sophomore biology, a disaster of Titanic proportions for me, made worse by the fact that Mr. C’s dad worked alongside mine at the steel factory. You have no idea how disconcerting it is to hear about my [alleged] shortcomings, second-hand, through my father. 


As soon as I post this, I know I will think of someone I left out, so I will post a comment to that effect in the comments sections, below. It would be fun to get others thinking about incidents that we all would find amusing. Putting these in the comments section need not require a great deal of effort, but they will certainly generate a chuckle or two, and invariably some comparisons. You may simply want to give a shout-out to your favorite teacher. 


Mine was Father O'Loughlin, (Spelling?) my debate class teacher, freshman year. I liked him because he did not hold it against me that I was not my brother, Brian, who has a photographic memory.


In any case, correct me if I am wrong, but I doubt that the fine nuns at Amat ever resorted to anything as crude as Father Marion’s simile about cheating. I am certain they were far more refined that that! Furthermore, if they were having a bad day, they kept it to themselves. 


After all, what earthly reason could nuns in full-length habits have, for looking askance at girls’ short skirts? 


Seriously? Do tell...


Mr. Bill Ruch, the teacher I wished
I had when I found out he was having
his students read the works of
J.R.R. Tolkien.