fet·ish: “an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency; OR, any object, idea, etc., eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect, or devotion: to make a fetish of . . . .” –

“FETISH-RELATED WORDS”:monomania; complex, hang-up; appetite, craving, desire, fascination, hunger, infatuation, longing, lust, passion, pining, thirst, urge, yearning; idiosyncrasy, quirk; bent, disposition, inclination, leaning, partiality, penchant, predilection, predisposition, proclivity, propensity, tendency

“When does collecting turn into an addiction–or become a fetish?” Good question.

I used to hear, when I signed my name, or put comments on a student’s paper, “You write like a girl!” That I had been hearing for many years since learning the ups and downs of The Palmer Method of handwriting, the scrolls and the loops and the curls.

Now, in the era of being nice, and equality, and political correctness, I hear something more like “Nice handwriting.” “Yes, that is my best cursive, taught to me many years ago.” And I continue to write notes and memories in longhand–and, sign checks. (See my blog posting from September 2013: I even try to write a note on each Christmas card I send. Something special, in cursive.

With a good gel pen or a fiber point, I can make my way across a piece of paper, stay on the ruled-line paper, and write in my college-ruled journal books IF I have the “right” kind of pen.

I have a fetish for pens. I have two coffee cups on my desk, one full-tight crammed with ballpoint pens and gel-ink pens; one reserved only for my collection of Cross pens.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways.” (Paul 1 Corinthians 13:11).

As a child and youngster, I had some good fountain pens; then cartridge types (which were not effective–always had to have cartridges in some drawer for refills). Then came ballpoint pens, with a thick and gooey ink that made blops and smears on the paper. Unsightly, and messy. (Blue exam books had near-tissue-thin paper. Ballpoint and fountain pens certainly kept me from getting all A’s in college. But pencil was not allowed. No right answer there.)

In 1976–I can remember it–I bought my first Cross pen and pencil set: chrome. (I still have both in the cup.) The purchase was a status symbol for this guy with a pen fetish (“an object regarded with awe”).



The pencil worked smoothly; the pen slid out of my fingers, slid down my writing fingers when I tried to write quickly, despite the knurling on the barrel near the point [“Knurling: The operation performed for producing indentations on the part of the workpiece. Knurling allows hands or fingers to get a better grip on the knurled object than would be provided by the originally smooth metal surface. Occasionally, the knurled pattern is a series of straight ridges rather than the more-usual crisscross pattern.” --See] The tighter I held the pen, the less control over it I had.



So that was that. Until the next Cross pen (“infatuation): one in red, or grey, or blue–or classy black [“The Cross Classic Century is the signature Cross pen. It has become an icon with its mid-century modern design (since 1946) that has been alluring writers for decades. The slim design and smooth writing ink make this one of the most highly regarded ballpoint pens of its time.”]

Then, added to my collection, two gold, one chrome with gold accents (“idiosyncrasy).

I had to stop. They are usable, but too thin and smooth for my arthritic fingers.  

But thankfully, somehow, someone created or invented the gel-ink pen (see Sakura, 1984). I was convinced it was for me (“inclination, leaning, partiality).

No refilling, no “perfect” gold nib needed, and no blips-blops. And the best ones have a rubber cushion for my writing fingers. All in many colors, to make strokes in bold, micro-thin, fine–or just plain “regular.” (I have learned, however, that the ink runs out faster than in a ballpoint.)

Nevertheless, despite my need for writing speed and my like for gel ink, I recently obtained a new Cross pen: a “fat boy,” in blue enamel, with chrome accents. [“The Cross Calais Ball Pen reflects Deco’s embrace of geometry, handicraft, and streamlined form. This magnificent pen is available in two lacquered finishes along with two-tone chrome and single tone chrome finishes.” Magnificent! I had to have one! Definitely “appetite, craving, desire.”]

I can really hold it tight as it rests on my “tall-man” writing bump on my right hand. It is stylish, though the technology or twisting to open-close the ink cartridge refill is still the same as in my first Cross pen.



And that is that. For now.

“You thrive on novelty,” an older gentleman cautioned me. Is that so bad?

So, about my blue-suede “box toes”…



 © James F. O’Neil 2014


**To fulfill a desire you might have for further reading, see on-line writing instrument magazine, featuring detailed reviews, history, news, shows, and product announcements, and more links to writing-instrument-focused sites than any other source…


“The Witch fell down . . . and . . . melted away to nothing, . . . Dorothy . . . being at last free to do as she chose, she ran out to the courtyard to tell . . . that the Wicked Witch of the West had come to an end, . . . There was great rejoicing. . . .” — L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz

If memory serves me right…in 5th grade…

Sister Mary Dolorita (a pretty face, all the flesh that showed–except for two hands–and a smile) taught my classroom of 5th and 6th grade boys and girls.

I liked our school on the South Side of Chicago. The building faced Honore, near 72nd Street. The structure, mostly one story, in a U-shape, was built around a beautiful church.

saint justin photo 2Saint Justin Martyr School and Church

Near the front of the building (at the south end), a stairway made its way up to a landing, with a second-floor classroom and the principal’s office. At the top of the stairs, on each side of the building, a door led to the choir loft. The church organ was situated in the center of the loft.

From 1949-1955 (my 8th grade graduation), a considerable part of my life was bound to these structures. Much I remember, yet so much I have forgotten.

However, I will never ever forget standing in front of church, lined up by grade, standing outside in the rain “Until there is quiet!” The principalshouted at us from under her umbrella. That year, my 5th grade, was the year from hell with her as principal, with


She was in absolute charge of the school. Nevertheless, we endured.

With the School Year nearly over, including nice Chicago weather, school activities included packing unused schoolbooks to be sent off to the missions. One morning, while we were quietly doing our seat-work tasks, Sister called upon me (always the acquiescing “Go-for”) to bring boxes from storage. Where was the storage for boxes?

Next to the choir loft. Of course….

Leaving my busy classmates, I entered the Silence of the Hall, looked both ways, and then headed to The Stairway.

(“Abandon hope, all ye who climb these stairs….”)

Looming at the top of the stairs, “Door Number One [left]: Choir Loft.” “Door Number Two [ahead]: Storage.”

Quickly–and softly–I moved to the top of the stairs, one linoleum-covered step at a time. I saw: “Door Number Three [right--and open]: Sanctum Sanctorum Principal.”

I opened Door Number Two. Absolute Darkness. Yet from the light of the open hall area surrounding me, I saw inside. Certainly, against extant Chicago fire codes, cardboard and corrugated boxes of all types and sizes were stacked un-neatly in this small storage facility.

And the one naked light bulb, in a socket, hanging down from the ceiling on a dark black fuzzy cord, with a barely-visible chain hanging across the bulb.

light bulb fotosearchLight Bulb. Credit: fotosearch

I pulled the chain, turning on the light bulb. At that very instant, the pump motor for the church organ began to run. The organist had begun to practice. With the light on, I could now see the green metal-mesh cage over the large black belt connected to a motor and flywheel. This motor ran the pump to operate the bellows–making the church music we so liked to hear. Noise and light nearly overwhelmed me in my Quest-for-Cardboard. So which one box would be perfect, would show my Dear Sister Dolorita I could do the job?

Of course, The Beautiful Perfect Cardboard Box on top of a pile near the back of the small room.

Behind me, while I made my way to the boxes-taller-than-I-was, The Voice of Principal shrilled: “What are you doing?” Frozen, I turned and blurted out, “Getting a box for Sister.” Then, something like, “Well, get on with it. Go on!” I pointed and tried to reach. “Never mind!” Pulling a step stool, then reaching for…all in slow motion (of course): She reached. She fell. She tumbled. She went down. Down. Down. Screaming. She screamed: “Oh!” as she went down, down, down into the depths, behind the metal cage.

Then I saw two laced high-top black shoes, pointing upwards, connected to two skinny lower legs, and ankles covered by dark black nylons.

“Help me! Help me!” she cried out, behind the running motor. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” (Turn what off?)

So I reached for and grabbed onto the bulb socket and chain, receiving a shocker! I pulled the chain. The motor kept running. Music continued from the church organ.

I barely saw the legs as I turned and ran to the classroom on the landing. I pulled open its door, shouting to the nun-like silence inside, all eyes on me: “Hurry! Sister fell into the organ!” In a flash, the good nun was pushing me aside, out of her way–and making headway to the space emitting music and motor sounds.

“JESUS! MARY! JOSEPH!” (They would certainly come to help when they heard their names shouted out in helplessness.) “Get Mr. Joe [the janitor]!” He would come for sure when I found him. I found him somewhere. Wherever he had his hangout. I went with him, but was told to go back to my classroom.

I arrived there empty-handed, but memory-traumatized. Forever. I retold the story–tearfully (almost). Lunchtime bell. Dismissed for lunch. Saved by the bell.

Adults running. Rumors. Ambulance. Congratulations.

Congratulations? Yes, I was to be congratulated. I was a childhood hero–to my schoolmates. “You tried to knock off the Old Witch. Is that true?”

Of course, it was true.

More likely, however, I probably did cry, knowing how fragile I was then.

The Principal never returned. Summer came. Then 6th grade. No mention of The Fall. I entered 6th grade, like all my other classmates, hearing from Sister Mary Georgine:


freshly roasted coffee beans in a jute bagBeans in the Bag Open

And we were now happy in school, lining up in good weather, a few times a week.  I was never again sent to find another storage box. Besides, they moved them–and, as far as I know, locked forever that Dantesque Doorgate.

(I bet Mr. Joe and the organist could get in if they wanted….)

© James F. O’Neil 2014


Nickname: “A name added to or substituted for the proper name of a person; some descriptive or familiar name given or received, sometimes humorous, sometimes sarcastic, some one of affection or ridicule.  Often, more likely, a shortened version of a person’s given name.”

Nicknames are certainly interesting, as is the word itself.

My wife and I were watching a TV doctor/hospital show.  The heroine’s nickname is “Pit.”  Why that?, the characters asked.  As she raised her arms in embarrassment, to rub her head, she had wet perspiration marks in the armpits of her scrubs.  Thus, “Pit.” 

I was curious about what “Old Nick,” “Saint Nick,” and “in the nick of time” had in common.  I was especially curious when I saw the movie Omen III.  An old fish, a pike, if I recall, lived in a lake.  Its name was “Old Nick.”  Since the movie is about Satan, this was worth some research.

“Saint Nick” or “Old Saint Nick”–even “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas”–are common expressions in December, on 6 December especially. 

So, like Nicholas becoming “Nick,” we have “Peg” or “Peggy”–and “Peg-o-My Heart” for Margaret.  Peter is “Pete” and Richard is…well, “Rick” (as in Casablanca’s “Rick’s Café Américain”).  But also “Dick.”  That?  Ouch!  Double-entendre here?  Because he could be a….  Ah, you can work that one out.  I grew up knowing that a penis was a “peter” (or even a “doodle,” for God’s sake).  Catholic boys in my young days had some mind-difficulties with Saint Peter’s nickname during our puberty….

Anyhow, continuing, Charles is “Chuck; William is “Bill” (not “Willie–and definitely not “a willie”), yet we have the 1993 film Free Willy.  Romualdas becomes “Rom”; Eugene is…yes, “Gene”; Thomas is “Tom” or “Tommy” (but “Tommy gun” is from the manufacturer Auto-Ordnance Company, naming the submachine gun for its designer, John T. Thompson).  (“British Tommies” will require another story.)

One of our teachers was Glennon E. Figge, initials “G.E.F.”: we called him “The Geef” (not a nickname used in his presence, of course).

And so it goes.  My name is James, that is “Jim,” “Jimbo,” and “Jimmy” (when my mother really wanted my attention).  In college, I was “Jim.”  That’s it.

Until Saint Patrick’s Day, 1961.  Whatever possessed me (“possessed”?) to paint a pair of my shoes green?  No doubt, “The Devil made me do it.”  There I was, celebrating my Irish heritage with green paint–bright green, for sure.

I attended the campus festivities of March 17, 1961:  corned beef and cabbage–possible. Special dessert?  I cannot remember.  Nor can most of my classmates at our small college.  However, many do remember my bright green shoes, though not remembering them as well as a pair of “ruby slippers” in some Wizard movie…  But, hey, I made MY mark to this day.

“Greenie, how are you?  “Hello, Greenie.  How are things?”  “  Greenie!  What’s up?”  A lasting memory from one special Saint PADDY’S Day (a “patty” is a hamburger-thingy; “Patty” is a girl’s name–mostly….  Look it up.).

©  James F. O’Neil  2014  

Note: A special thanks to my Irish classmate Michael Toohey for suggesting I write this memory.  “Thanks, Mike.”  Or, is that “Mikey,” “Mickey,” or “Mick”?  Or would that be now “Mícheál”?  Ah, that good old Hebrew name….



Just this side of Heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.”  — The Rainbow Bridge,  –Unknown Author

I thought I hated cats.  Aunt Nell and Uncle Charlie had them everywhere.  At least that’s what it seemed like.  When I was young, and not visiting Aunt Nell and Uncle Charlie’s cats, I had gold fish and guppies.  They died–mostly from overfeeding, or lack of oxygen because of the slime never cleaned off the sides of those little bowls won at carnivals, or the sides of a bigger “tank.”

There were some dogs and birds, and stories to accompany them and their lives as part of the family.

Off I went to college, then marriage.  My 20-year-old bride and I had no pets: plants, ice skates, a 1962 Corvair, but no pets.

With the births of our two boys came some talk of having some other living creatures to promote responsibility and appreciation of living, not stuffed, animals. 

One gold fish, then guppies, then bottom-dwellers for the others in a five-gallon tank.  Then a Dutch Checker, black and white bunny-then-rabbit. 

dutch checker sweetpea foundation

Dutch Checker. Credit: Sweetpea Foundation

He was donated to a Purina Stud Farm…where he was forever loved, fed, and made happy.

No pets then for a while, yet a sailboat we called “KATT.”  For it was cat-rigged: a sail with a sleeve, which fit over the 20-foot mast. 

sail-2Chrysler Man-O-War

Then, we moved, pet-less, in 1973, to the farms and farmlands of Western Minnesota, where pets ran wild, in town, on the farms, and in homes.

“Cat?  I hate cats?”  I could never forget the smells in Aunt Nell’s home.  And food bowls everywhere.  And dried up milk.   

“But they have a new litter on the farm” (which was across the highway beyond the football field which was behind our rhubarb and raspberries and apple trees and our one-car garage-shed).

The four of us (one former cat-lover among us: the wife was raised with cats when she grew up in a farmhouse) made our way across the field along the 50-yard line, across the two-lane highway, to the large farmhouse belonging to friends of the boys.

I’ll never know how I let myself be put into that position of looking at cats.  “OK, but we’ll just look.”  Perhaps.  Or maybe it was more like, “OK, if it’s all right with your mother, we’ll go look.  But we’re not getting any cats or kittens or whatever.”  (Our boat KATT was the only cat I wanted.  And mute, too.)

Up the stairs to see the mew-ers.  Mewing from everywhere.  “Yes, she’s really pretty” (the mother cat).  And all those little furballs with noses and little legs and mouse-y tails.  And I heard myself saying unintelligible–irrational–words, something like “We have to take two….”: Bert and Ernie.

Bert stroked out–and was gone: our first experience together with the Right-to-Die Movement in a vet’s office.  This first cat-I-would-never-have was 16 years old.  A year later, at age 17, Ernie.

Anger accompanied our second loss.  “No more pets!”  I shouted as I tearfully bagged any reminders and remnants of cat-dom.  The litter box went into the trash, along with catnip, cat toys, blankets, towels, and litter scoopers.  I loaded the food into the car, drove to the Humane Society, and gave them the food and a donation.

No more cats.

“No more cats!  I’m not ready.  They are too much.  I cannot get involved with pets anymore!”

“How about this one, Grampa?”  What was I doing back at the Humane Society?  “These two twin kittens.  Aren’t they cute?”  Yet I saw the runt, who had been in a home, but was brought back.  Not a mewing kitten but an older-young cat (three months, for sure).  A female?  The eyes got to me.  The paws on the cage, she on her hind legs begging to take her with us.

“She’s such a PRISS.”  And Priscilla Elizabeth, who was Miss Princess of Everything.  Ah, alone.  In her own cat-dom.  Unconditional love.  She was the It-Cat.  Until, “Grampa,…”  Along came Emma Louise, the white Turkish Van kitten.

And Brewster Robert?  A.k.a. Sylvester, the Lover, the Clown, the Acrobat.  He was the cat on loan, the one we were going to take care of for two years.  “Two years?  Sure, that’s all right.”  Twelve years later….

And Kitty?  “Miss Kitty”?  Raised with a dog, she became our orphan-resident, another furball-pooper-crier-sleeper to feed and clean up after, but who wiggled her arthritic paws into my heart.

So there we all were.  All comfortable, “three meals a day, anytime, day or night.”  And I was ok, for feline-inity had found its way into my being, easily seen by the number of cat toys lying about, the number of cat books in our library, the amounts of the veterinarian bills, the softness and the fun I had learned of cat-dom since I crossed over.

Now we longer have any cats, after nearly forty years of being a feline household.  Old age and illness.  Old age or illness took each one.

No matter how many times we had to perform the Right-to-Die Ceremony, it never got “easier.” 

Maxwell Being Silly

Maxwell and Henry. Photo: Kim Kelly

Sometimes cats act dumb, or like little children; or behave as babies, or as cunning plotters–or show elation over a simple sound made by the Human Can Openers.  Quiet most of the day, they are easily spooked by strange sounds at night.  And are Fraidy-Cats.  Really.  They do not listen, do not behave, do whatever-damn-well-pleases them.

So, about Cat-dom: it has its shortcomings: piles of ant-covered throw-up–and those hairballs!  And the crying-mewing-meowing, and growling fights with fur-a-flyin’.

It took others to bring me to this place, to become a Cat-Lover.  A Softy for Felines.  And I loved it–despite the litter between my toes or in my socks–or the catnip-covered toy mice hidden inside my shoe.

And that is that.  We are now too old “to start another family.”  The house is quiet.  Yet every once in a while…a shadow….  A ghost?  A spirit? 

Sometimes these moments of cat make me happy-sad. 

Oh, but such good memories remain.  For all this, I really like cats. 

©  James F. O’Neil   2014

Reach Out and Touch

By: James F. O’Neil

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten–Robert Fulghumall i needed to know

My mother once overwhelmed me by reciting the names of so many of her high school teachers.  Her telling was many years ago–and many years after she left Lindblom High School in Chicago.  I once tried to replicate her memory of my teachers.  Once.

Throughout my teaching career, I was (and still am) a firm believer that “teachers teach as they were taught,” choosing eclectically the best practices and avoiding the worst of the worst.  I always wanted to become aware of those who were memorable, or non-memorable, teaching influences in my life. 

I, for example, though not starring in many school plays, hated to memorize lines.  I hated any type of public recitation, from a “Bah!  Humbug!” in 7th grade to “Friends, Romans, countrymen” in 10th grade.  Yet despite my aversion to memorization, there was no way out.  I had to do it: multiplication tables, geometry theorems, aorist tenses in Greek, and even argumentation principles.

Memorization is an action of memory, hence the root of the word.  “If memory serves me correctly,” usually it does.  And for some, memory serves better than for others.  What matters about baseball statistics or capitals of states or GNP of countries?  Caring.  Who cares?  Yes, that’s the point.

The Pythagorean theorem–a² + b² = c²–meant nothing to me.

Who cares?  I didn’t–until a teacher (a nun, a Religious Sister of Mercy, RSM) explained that throwing a ball from third base to first over the pitcher’s mound was NOT 90 feet, but 127.27922 feet.  She and Pythagoras made that very clear.

I cared now.  I needed a strong arm to play third base.

Caring determines memorization acumen.  If I care so much about subject X, for whatever reason–to get a good grade, to show off, to complete myself, to prove something to myself or to others–then memory will serve me well.  (Though for certain school subjects, “Use it or lose it” does come into play.  I rarely use “side-angle-side,” the quadratic equation, or R-O-Y-G-B-I-V–except when I see a rainbow.)

So what good to remember names of teachers unless one cares?  How often am I actually called upon to write an essay on “The Most Influential Person in My Life”?  Teachers might come to mind were I writing a college admission essay.  Or “the fastest airplane ever” if I were an airplane enthusiast.  Or anything with lists or numbers or beliefs or…ad infinitum (Ah, that’s one to remember: “to infinity” but then I might add “and beyond” for an update to include time and space: ad astra per aspera, an axiom or motto adopted by some pilots in World War Two.) 

And the list goes on. . . .

But those special teachers: I cannot forget.  Ever.  Like my mother, no matter how old I am, I remember.  Or try to remember.  But is the past worth returning to?  Do I need to be able to remember or list teachers?  

Joseph Epstein

Joseph Epstein

“Memory,” Joseph Epstein writes, “with the ability it bestows to allow a person to live vividly away from the body and immediate environment, is a possible sign of the ability to live after the body has disappeared.”

Receiving notification of the death of a former teacher, I page through my high school yearbook.  The spirits live, as Epstein believes.  I was looking to find a picture of one of my “ghost” teachers, to find a picture that might enliven a memory.  There he was.  His death notice showed him to be thirteen years older than I, both then and now.  However, he looked so young in the picture; he was never “old.”  (My graduation picture shows me at age 18.)

Opening the pages–still mostly intact after fifty years!–I find pleasure.  Calm overtakes me: I see my teachers; I look into the eyes of my classmates.  There is something that even thrills me.  My youth?  All our youth?  (Except for those “old” teachers.)

Yes, those memory-filled pages (as trite as it sounds) bring smiles to my face, stories into my mind.  And those teachers, those favorites, live on: history, science, Latin, math, music, religion, even Greek and some German.

Yet I could not, however, list them all from memory.  When I open the book, however, I visualize and want to tell the stories.  I want to recount who did what, what “battles” were fought, who still survives.

A yearbook isn’t simply a book about “years”; it is about life.  It has a spiritual life of its own–even though a body has disappeared.  Timeless.  Though I might age, I am forever young within its pages.  These pages contain so much memory of a part of my life–even, perhaps, an incalculable part.

And, really, I was a handsome guy….

©  James F. O’Neil  2014

 Pic of 1936 Yearbook from Lindblom High School (Credit: eBay)






“In by 7, Out by 11.” 

Some dry cleaners had that as their motto, often prominently displayed in the front window of the store.  As a kid, I never had to have any pants or shirts by 11, so I really did not care about the saying.  However, I am sure that for men who had to have dress pants ready for an afternoon meeting or an evening’s activities, this type of cleaners provided a necessary service, often “at a moment’s notice”: “Same Day Service.”

Neon Sign

I pictured girl friends or wives rushing to be there by seven in the morning, to be able to have shirts ready and pants laid out, with proper tie, for the dinner, opera, or theatre when the man of the house arrived home from work.  No doubt it was a rush job–and maybe poor planning on someone’s part.  Nevertheless, the cleaners did their job–and the man was dressed for success.     

Where I went to high school, I had to wear a suit coat and tie.  For four years, that was our daily dress.  My coats often came from my Uncle Bill, hand-me-downs that worked just fine.  The coat usually stayed in my school locker; shirt and tie were put on in the early morning at home.  My high school yearbook picture shows me so neat, with shirt and tie.

Jimmy yearbook picture 1960


(My dad did not wear a tie to work to drive a bakery truck, but he did for church–and dinners–and taught me well how to tie my ties.)

Teaching in high school in Chicago, I wore ties every day: with white (laundered and starched) shirts, for three years.  Later, in Florida, I continued to wear ties, and was comfortable, for the rest of my teaching career.  For the most part.  And that was all right, especially when I was teaching classes like Professional and Business Writing.  I felt that I was setting a kind of standard often mentioned in the textbook as good business dress–even having the tip of the tie “just below the bottom of the belt buckle.”  Dressed for Success…        

That is how I was dressed–wearing a striped Oxford button down, tie (100% silk), and dress trousers–on Gall Bladder Tuesday.  This was a class day like none other EVER in my whole life, with “one of those moments that changed your life forever.”         

I have had my share of illnesses and sickness and operations: tonsils, appendix, hernias, and the awful total knee-replacement surgery.  “On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your pain level?”  I was asked when I awoke in the recovery room after my knee surgery.  “ELEVEN!  ELEVEN!”  And that was no kidding around.          

That was the worst pain I had ever had in my life.  I thought.          

My Tuesday night class progressed as normal, having begun at 5 pm.  Most of the students were present for a professional business lecture.  My tie was perfect, one of my favorites, gold with miniature World War I biplanes in neat little rows, evenly spaced.  I tied it without a problem earlier in the afternoon, around three o’clock.  I planned to end the class at 6:30, with time for discussion and individual questions.  As usual, during the lecture, I was beginning to lose my voice, and was in need of a throat lozenge or cough drop.            

Something happened that Tuesday night after I took that cough drop.  I winced–and began to sweat.  Perspiration, like never before.  That was one powerful Hall’s cough drop!  I was then having a worse pain in the gut.  I did not recognize this pain, and was soon beginning to get very nervous: about me, about the class.  I hung on, of course.  I was the teacher.  By 6:30, they and I were ready.  Class was over.  Then I was alone with the pain.  I sat down and gulped the rest of my cherry Coke.  Then some water.           

I gathered leftover handouts, locked the door, and made my way to the faculty parking lot.  In the car, I sweat, turning the AC on me.  I nearly ripped off my silk airplane tie, and unbuttoned my shirt, down to my belt.  I sat back, trying to decide: a heart attack or a bad candy bar I ate earlier.  I weighed the decision to go to the hospital, to home, or to the nearest fire station.  I chose home.   

“No, can’t do it.”  I made my painful way to the hospital near my home, calling my wife to meet me.  By now I was practically holding my ankles near the gas pedal from pain.  I was in the hospital hallway by 7:00 pm.            

A paramedic walking in the hall helped me into a wheel chair.  I was rushed into an exam room, stripped of all but socks and my undies (“Make sure you always have on clean underwear in case something happens!”  I could hear Generations speaking), and then wired to every machine available.  High blood pressure, intense pain, but no heart attack.

“What is your pain level, Mr. O’Neil?” the ER nurse screamed at me.  “MR. O’NEIL!”  Oh, it was off the chart, as I squirmed on the gurney, on my back, of course, doubled-over with pain.

pain measurement scale


Dilaudid did it: “AAHHHHHHH….”

By 11 pm, after a CT scan, the ER doctor, having ruled out an aneurysm, decided to consult with the surgeon on call.  I was moved to a room at 2:15 am, where I was morphined.            

At 6 a.m., “Gall stones for sure,” assured the surgeon, drawing me a cartoonish explanation.  “Surgery at 9.”            

“Take a deep breath, Mr. O’Neil,” some masked person spoke, putting something over my nose.           

I was in by 7, out by 11, then back in the room, and was told all went well.  I would be able to leave after 5!

What dry-cleaner success!           

At 7:30 p.m. in the dark, I was home, weighing a bit less.  Twenty-four hours!  I had a reamed out belly button (bandaged, of course), and three neatly spaced slits for the instruments.  I did not have to endure a lengthy procedure of cutting and poking and stitching and tubing and pumping and being sick for five hospital days.  I was certainly lucky.           

Of course, in the ER, the paramedics had chided me.

“Call 9-1-1!”

“Yes, you’ll find me by the side of the road, by my car.”  I thought of that, but then thought, What would happen to my car?  So I tried for the hospital.           

Besides, I had advanced degrees.  I knew what to do….  Dumb…

©  James F. O’Neil  2014








“Great work is done by people who are not afraid to be great.”  –Fernando Flores

A Queen Anne’s chair had been part of our family furniture for many, many years.  It needed recovering.  My wife took it upon herself to learn re-upholstery, taught at Riverdale High School, a local high school in Fort Myers.  The Adult Ed class was scheduled for evening-night.  Not wanting her to go alone, I decided to go with her. 

What could I take?  Ah, Spanish.  “Si.”

So, one evening in January 1990, in the dark of a Florida winter, the two of us drove to register at the school–and take the first of six or seven class sessions, offered weekly.

In a large parking lot for student cars brought in the daytime, few cars were parked when we arrived. 

Hallways and closed doors greeted us as we followed signs To Registration.  Sue was accepted and paid her fees.  “Spanish class is full.  Sorry.  Are you interested in anything else?”  The list before me–Small Engine Repair, Painting I, Macramé, Investments and Retirement–presented nothing.  What interested me was the influx of Hispanic-speaking people into our city–and my wanting to be able to give directions or answer questions.

Years of high school Latin endowed me with a knowledge of Gaul and its three parts.  “Cui bono?”  What good is it?  No, no Latin offerings.  No Greek (had that, too, for four years).  German?  I’m embarrassed to tell how little I remember from three years of conversational German.  Memorization of dialogues. 

     Paul: “Guten Morgen.  Haben Sie gut geschlafen?”

     Hans: “Danke, sehr gut.  Ich schlafe immer gut.”

     Jim: Bitte, no more German.

So what was I to do while she is upholstering?  “Are you interested in stained glass?  We need one more student to make the class.”  “What’s that?”  I asked.

There were no notes to be taken.  Mr.  Stevens, the hoary-headed teacher, had set out boxes of pieces of broken glass.  Colors and clears and patterned.  He told us, “Draw something on the piece of blank white paper I gave you.”  Then, “Choose pieces of glass and copy your drawing onto the pieces of glass.  Keep it simple.”

Fear.  Not ever being very creative (my flowers always looking like lollipops), I drew this stupid little sailboat, and then using scissors to cut it into three pieces.  Something simple.  Fear: of cutting myself, of bleeding all over.  I was truly afraid. 

Then came the instruction on how to use the glasscutter, wrapping the pieces with sticky copper foil, then trying to avoid burning my fingers as I held a soldering iron to join the three little pieces together–with a little O-ring on top of the mast.

 My sailboat, from January 1990:  How my creative “juices” were flowing!

First Project 1990

A Stained Glass Beginning

This adventure led me to having more creativity than I had ever imagined for myself.  Yet fear always remained: of failure; of misjudging; of using my sense-less taste in color. 

Nevertheless, since then, I have produced some interesting works: during my kaleidoscope period (no more of those); jewelry boxes (mostly unhinged.  No more of those); of lamp making (cheaper to buy now–and well made, too); and some free-formed pieces.

The failures (parrots too small, or wrong colors) have been superseded by the successes: clever uses of well-placed bevels in a large window to catch sunlight to bring prismatic R-O-Y-G-B-I-V colors into a living room.  I did some cabinet windows in a renovated 1920s home in Edison Park.  (That project was fear-driven: not to mess up when I was just learning the art). 

As time went on and my fears faded, I not only became a teacher of stained glass construction but also worked on projects of other artisans.  I even worked in glass shops and in galleries.  Success.

This story had to be told.

Never, in my wildest, would I ever believe I would be cutting glass (like my Grandpa Schuma tried–unsuccessfully–to teach me how to repair broken windows): for self-satisfaction, for esthetic pleasure, for that sense of “I-stuck-in-my-thumb-and-pulled-out-a-plum-and-said….”:


Deo gratias!–a little appropriate holy Latin.

However, since that dark night at Riverdale High School, “I no habla Español!”

©  James O’Neil  January 2014

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