BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Just lather, that’s all.  You are an executioner and I am only a barber.  Each person has his own place in the scheme of things.  That’s right.  His own place.”  — from the short story  “Just Lather, That’s All” by Hernando Téllez (1908 – 1966)

Possibly the most famous work by Hernando Téllez was his short story Espuma y nada más (“Just Lather, That’s All”), a story widely read amongst American high school Spanish students.  It depicts the inner conflict of a barber who is shaving the captain of a military unit who has tracked, imprisoned, and killed some of the barber’s comrades.  The barber vacillates between thoughts of slitting the captain’s throat with his razor or giving him the expert shave for which he is known.  In the end, the barber decides he does not want to be stained in blood, but only in soap lather or “espuma y nada más.”  As the captain leaves, he reveals that he heard the barber would kill him; his visit was to see if this was true.  [Summary by Wikipedia]

I first heard about this story when I was teaching 10th grade English in Florida.  I knew nothing of it except it was a film available through the A-V Department.  “Anything I could use to keep them entertained,” I said to myself one day while I was shaving.  The 10th graders and I were having some difficulties with literature “appreciation.”  So I ordered the film.  They and I were mesmerized.  What a great film–and I had to find and read the story.  I did–again and again.

Yet aside from the literary effects of the story or the history of my classroom use of the film, the memories that audio-visual production (real film with projector!) conjured up took me back to my beginning experiences with face hair and shaving, images of laughter and love affairs with razors and shaving; remembrances of questionable pedagogical actions.  Gillette, single edge, blue blades, double edge, Mach 3 Turbo; Merkur, Wilkinson.  Words, words, words.  And Remington, not shotgun, but a 1959 Electric Roll-a Matic electric razor.

As men get older, they don’t shave as often.  If they do, it’s out of habit, not of necessity.  “Don’t hafta go ta work.”  Or when they look shaggy, or out of self-esteem–or, perhaps, guilt.  Or, possibly, old military-like discipline.  I’m one of those who don’t shave much anymore, certainly not every day, as before.  “In the day,” I used to look forward to Saturdays, for a day off–especially from shaving.  Yet how excited and eager we were “once upon a time” to be able to shave like our dads, brothers, or uncles.  Then.

Today, shaving and all it entails is such big-money business, in stores and in advertising.  Reggie Perrin was the consummate Razor Man, from reggie-perrin-bbc-martin-clunesBBC-UK: from the company always trying to out-blade the multi-blade blade.  Reggie was British comedy.  More important, who would ever have thought of a sit-com about a razor blade engineer-salesman, and his company’s Quest for the Perfect Razor Blade.  The elusive “Perfect Razor Blade”–or even The Perfect Shave, like the search for The Holy Grail or the secret of alchemy.  We men (mostly) continue our Quest, as the mythics tell us “from the beginning” (ab initio) until… 

Which brings me up to my story.  (My “beginning” early memories of collecting “stuff” includes digging through garbage in the neighborhood alleys of Chicago to find used razor blades.  Whatever possessed me to do such a thing?  [I had quite a collection of Gillette Blue Blades.  I related some of this story of collection/addiction previously: https://memoriesofatime.com/2013/10/25/confessions-of-an-addict-reflections-on-collecting/].)

During my puberty and adolescence, peach fuzz came, sprouted in the pores on my face where zits did not thrive.  As I aged, I found razor blades not kind to my bumpy face.  My Uncle Bill gave me the Remington electric in 1959 that I used through my senior year of high school, then took to college. 

remington-electric-razor-my-first

JIMMY O’NEIL’S FIRST RAZOR

(Any memory images of college shaving are non-existent, more than a blur.)  My Electric Days have included Norelco products and mini-portables–and Braun Mobile units, battery-powered, for quick touch up works, at home or office.  These have been delightful.  Thomas Edison notwithstanding, I always have come back to the lather and the razor.  I have been on the receiving end of the lather and the blade: in college, a classmate who did haircutting offered to give me a shave.  My first and last with a straight edge, though older barbers still do neck trims with straight razors, and around the ears. 

For our first Christmas after our wedding, my new bride learned–perhaps from hints I had made, or from her reading–that The Perfect Shave Tool was a Merkur (German) razor wedded to a Wilkinson Sword Blade blade (made in England).  These, with a genuine badger bristle brush and a bar of Williams Shaving Soap were my gifts under the tree in 1963. 

merkur-razor-by-toecutter1967-photobucket

MERKUR RAZOR (by photobucket)

Brushes later, shaving mugs later, then Burma Shave canned lather, or Barbasol Thick and Rich (with aloe, of course)–to say nothing of a cup of Old Spice in a mug–have been used, tried, sampled (gels never were a success), and discarded.  I am a fickle shaver with lather, even trying shaving using messy (non-foaming) greasy-like cream or Noxzema.  Messy application, messy shaving, messy clean up.  (But, incidentally, a clean shave.  In spite of that, not worth the mess.)

In the past years, I have tried different razors and a combination of blades.  No Reggie Perrin blades (six or seven?), but single, twin, triple, with Atra razors, various Gillette models, the Merkur, and the Mach3 Turbo (current).  Harry’s in New York sent me a trial sample kit.  Harry’s is becoming popular, with good products and mailing.  But I just could not maneuver the blade under my nose…and around my nostril…  So No to their beautiful razor and handle and shaving cream and Blade-of-the-Month Club.  And I also do not need any Gillette Fusion!

So this story ends.  Not quite.  That film for the 10th graders.  Whatever possessed me (another possession) to bring brush and soap and razor to class and ask for a volunteer.  Was I sure of what I was doing?  (Did I care?)  I was certain that many of the peach-fuzzed boys had not yet shaved; many of the girls (I assumed then) had never seen any boy shave, or watched anyone shave, for real or in the movies (and certainly not as done in the Lather film).  Up stands Jerry Cohee, and comes to the front of the room.  “Gather round, kids,” I might have said, putting a towel around him.  I had the water and the soap ready.  In the cup, I “began to stir with the brush…and whipped up the soap” and just lathered.  I took my razor, and off they came, the hairs on his chinny, chin, chin.  Voila!  Done!  “Next?”  No Next.  Time for the bell. 

That was the end.  The last time I showed that film.  The last time I demonstrated expert shaving in the classroom.  The last time I taught 10th grade, and high school classes (moving on into a community college setting).  After all, though, it was one of those memoriesofatime never to be dismissed as trivial or insignificant.  So much surrounds it making it a great story.  And that’s it.

Telling stories about shaving isn’t as glamorous as writing about food in the movies, diets, exercise plans, building muscles in a gym, or travels to Paris, or babies’ first walkings–perhaps.  But I enjoy telling my stories about shaving.  At the same time, I have been thankful, at times, that I did not have to worry about cutting or nicking an ankle or taking a chunk out of my knee or calf, or messing with a razor in a bathtub.  I just need some hot water, a sink, a good razor and blade, and Just Lather, that’s all.

 

© James F. O’Neil  2016

shaving-bowl-and-colonel-shaving-brush

SHAVING BOWL AND BRUSH

 

“The greatest friend of truth is Time…” –Charles Caleb Colton [1780-1832]

Richard Gary Brautigan (1935–c. September 16, 1984) was an American novelist, poet, and short story writer.  During the 1960s, Brautigan became involved in the burgeoning San Francisco counterculture scene.  In the summer of 1961, he completed the novels A Confederate General from Big Sur and Trout Fishing in America.  When Trout Fishing in America was published in 1967, Brautigan was catapulted to international fame.  Literary critics labeled him the writer most representative of the emerging countercultural youth-movement of the late 1960s.  Also during the 1960s, Brautigan published four collections of poetry as well as another novel, In Watermelon Sugar (1968).  In the spring of 1967, he was Poet-in-Residence at the California Institute of Technology.  Later he was generally dismissed by literary critics and increasingly abandoned by his readers; then his popularity waned throughout the late 1970s and 1980s.  Brautigan’s writings are characterized by a remarkable and humorous imagination.  The permeation of inventive metaphors lent even his prose-works the feeling of poetry.  Evident also are themes of Zen Buddhism like the duality of the past and the future and the impermanence of the present.  In 1984, at age 49, Richard Brautigan had moved to Bolinas, California, where he was living alone in a large old house that he had bought with his earnings years earlier.  He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. [summarized from Wikipedia]

Some Poetry texts: Please Plant This Book (1968); The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1969); Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt (1970); Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork (1971)….

“Ozymandias” by English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), January 1818

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Time marches on (as if Time can march), and the desert wastelands are poeticized by Brautigan:

Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt

                —San Francisco Chronicle headline
                    June 26, 1942

Rommel is dead.
His army has joined the quicksand legions
of history where battle is always
a metal echo saluting a rusty shadow.
His tanks are gone.
How’s your ass?

So how are things in the Syrian Desert?

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“A great work of art may provide us the opportunity to feel more profoundly and more generously, to perceive more fully the implications of experience, than the constricted and fragmentary conditions of life permit.”  –Louise M. Rosenblatt, Literature as Exploration (Noble, 1968)

. . .

Underlinings and Notes from A Literary Education by Joseph Epstein (Axios, 2014)

“Apart from those people trained as professional scholars or scientists, we are all finally autodidacts [self-taughts[, making our way on our own as best we can, with our real teachers being the books we happen to read.”

“…the best that any university can do is point its students in the right direction: let them know what the intellectual possibilities are and give them a taste of the best that has been thought and written in the past.”

“…literature, largely though not exclusively imaginative literature, provides the best education for a man or woman in a free society.”

“While novelists may have a plenitude of ideas, or deal with complex ideas in their work, it is rarely their ideas that are the most compelling things about their work.”

“A literary education establishes a strong taste for the endless variousness of life; it teaches how astonishing reality is–…”

“…a literary education teaches the limitation of the intellect itself, at least when applied to the great questions, problems, issues, and mysteries of life.”

“A literary education teaches that human nature is best, if always incompletely, understood through the examination of individual cases [and] those cases that…prove no rule–the unique human personality.” 

“…  [I]t provides an enhanced appreciation of the mysteries and complexities of life that reinforce the inestimable value of human liberty…”

. . .

Epstein quoting Marcel Proust: “Our intellect is not the most subtle, the most powerful, the most appropriate instrument for revealing truth.  It is life that, little by little, example by example, permits us to see that what is most important to our heart, or to our mind, is learned not by reasoning, but through other agencies.  Then it is that the intellect, observing their superiority, abdicates its control to them upon reasoned grounds and agrees to become their collaborator and lackey.”

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“What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning.  / The end is where we start from.”  –T. S. Eliot

“The past is never dead.  In fact it’s not even past.”  –William Faulkner

“…these statements express the realization that we can never access the body of the past, the physical experience that people now dead once felt in the very fiber of their bodies.  But we can also nevernot want to access that past, to think, imagine, and write our way back to an imagination of what those bodies must have felt [Walt Whitman’s referring to the Civil War dead].  Often our own past feels this way, too–we recall feeling pain or horror or terror, but it is difficult to ‘get it in the books,’  to write it so that others can experience in their bodies what we felt in ours (or so that we can once again feel what we know we once felt).  Writers often experience most keenly this notion that ‘the past is never dead’ and that we are always starting at the end.’”  [IWP © The University of Iowa 2012-2016]

MEMORIESOFATIME  are often written about past events which caused the writer to feel intensely and deeply and physically, then described in such a way emphasizing what the body felt–words being used to bring a dead past alive.

“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.”  –Corrie Ten Boom

“Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.”  –Percy Bysshe Shelley

“There is not past, no future; everything flows in an eternal present.”  ….  “Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.” –James Joyce

“We can’t let the past be forgotten.”  –George Takei

“The destruction of the past is perhaps the greatest of all crimes.”  –Simone Weil

© James F. O’Neil 2016 

“Adults like to talk about their reading…to force the mind to recollect forgotten but important memories of how one became a reader.”  –G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill, Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books, 1988.

Can you write your “reading autobiography”?  What do I remember about learning to read?  What books do I remember reading?  Who, if anyone, had been important in developing my attitudes toward reading?  When and where did I read?

TOPICAL OVERVIEW OF READING HISTORY: REMEMBERING.

Growing with Books: Chronology: Beginning to Now

Learning to Read, Habits, and Attitudes

Sources for Books and Reading Materials

Outcomes from Reading (“Whatever the reason for a ‘watershed’ book’s appeal, seldom [is] a memory of the book consciously associated with the book’s degree of literary merit.  What was remembered is the emotional impact of the book, the insights it provided for self or others, and the growth that it stimulated in the reader.”  –Carlsen and Sherrill)

Teachers and Teaching

Libraries and Librarians

Poetry and the Classics

Barriers: Why Some Just Don’t Read

“Books and reading may not be the only activity in human life, but…”

“Reading maketh a full man.”  –Francis Bacon

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler

how to read a book by mortimer adler old

What a great book for me!  While a senior in high school, I belonged to the Book Club.  A group of us would meet once a month to discuss a book chosen by a faculty advisor.  He prepared questions for our comments.  Our first reading was Adler’s book.

This now-favorite and well-used book (first published in 1940) is still available in both “real” print and “electronic” print.  I have gone through two or three copies–and have given copies as gifts.  Were I to point out a most influential book in my life, Adler’s would be one of the three (followed by The Power and the Glory [1940] and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [1943]).

Often I see Adler’s book staring at me from its place on my bookshelf.

Looking through this book not long ago, I was searching for an answer to some question about my teaching career and about students: “…although the teacher may help his student in many ways, it is the student himself who must do the learning.  Knowledge must grow in his mind if learning is to take place.”

At that point, in a special mental instant, memory-filled, I became so aware of how far I had come in my learning and discovering, by reading.  Then there occurred a light-bulb “Ah-ha!” kind of connective moment,

light of reason

not about reading but about my own discovering, by do-ing.  I stood before my bookshelf, holding Adler, musing: What have I done? 

When I was being presented with my retirement gifts and honor plaque, “For his twenty years of full-time service…,” I stood there–really–thinking about my grandfather teaching me how to do “hands-on”: the practical, not the theoretical.  Nailing and sawing and shoveling and painting and gluing.

So much of my teaching career was not “hands on”–except, of course, when I would finger paint with my Head Start students; except, of course, my writing class notes on black, green, and white boards; except, of course, for correcting-annotating-commenting upon hundreds and piles of student papers; except, of course, for typing lesson plans, calculating and entering grades and achievements.  (Late in my career, though, I was doing “hands-on” computer instruction.)

Adler’s how-to book came long after some of my how-to experiences.

While in grammar school (elementary school), I did babysitting duties: bathing, feeding, and bedding (and changing diapers).  Yet I also was able to get a “real” job at a local grocery story.  I put up stock, helped clean up, but most importantly (since I was an experienced newspaper delivery boy), I was able to be trusted to deliver groceries.  Not as easy as it sounds, considering the delivery vehicle:

grocery bicycle

DELIVERY BICYCLE [RUSTED]

Careful and skillful, I did not let the bicycle tip or turn, spilling the contents of the basket–well, not often.  I learned then about center of gravity.  (The turning bike wanted to pull me over.)

Sometimes “all thumbs” at changing faucet washers, and driving nails, I still managed to be “hand-y”: knowing how to paint, scrub floors in the local school with a temperamental scrubbing machine, do dishes (glasses, knives and forks first; dishes, pots and pans last); mow lawns, shovel snow, change tires (automobile and bicycle).  (Later in life, in my automotive-mechanic stage of life, I actually installed water pumps, changed brakes, and even added a Holley 4-barrel carburetor to my 1954 Ford!  What achievements!)

1954 ford

I could tie a tie, long after learning how to tie shoelaces; shave my face, handwrite, and sign my name.  I hate to dust, but I can organize dirty clothes and do laundry.  And from observing and reading, I could/can make a “signature” meatloaf!

While working in a foundry, handling a swing grinder and hand tools, I made, fashioned, and finished dies for plastic companies, or was grinding off mold-edges on fire hydrants or small engines, still hot from the casting.  This work was dirty, sweaty, and hands-on. 

Yes, I have been a doer, with hands and fingers.  And I am pleased. 

I did, though, have my creative artistic attempts, like drawing flowers that looked like lollipops; then had twenty good years using my hands with glass, colored and contoured, fabricating flowers and shapes and geometrics that let the light shine through: my stained-glass years.

The Maltese Blue--One of the Best

THE MALTESE BLUE

All this and more.

My story of learning and discovery, however, cannot end without mention of one of my other greatest accomplishments of manipulative making.  I was privileged, honored, to be able to use my hands in a bookbindery.  Now how is that for a Mortimer Adler segue?

As a college junior, I found a place in the college bindery, an opportunity for me to come in contact with paper, cloth, glue, drill presses–to love books even more and realize the sacredness of pages put together.  There I folded and bound papers and pages into sets, the fascicles; sewed and pulled and tightened using needles and “thread” to sew units, not unlike Shakespeare’s quartos and octavos.  I grouped, squeezed, and pressed together the clusters of papers, then glued and waited.  The ends of the pages were trimmed with large-bladed cutters; I lost no parts of any fingers or thumbs. 

I learned how to make covers of cardboard and cloth, uniting the covers to the sewed and glued pages.  I pressed all parts together, and waited for drying.  I even learned to print titles, imprinted, impressed, using fonts of type and gold leaf foil.  I bound magazines, students’ notes, paperback texts, library journals, old books.

book edge of grant memoirs

I was proud of my work; I did my job.  I was good at my work and all the work I have done “with these hands.”

From all of this–from my reading, from my doing, from my remembering–it is that when I consider this “do-ing,” I am well pleased, something akin to sticking in my scarred thumb and pulling out a plumb–and saying, “What a good boy am I!” 

I did well, with my fingers and my thumbs. 

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

Little-Jack-Horner the color com

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

From Laura T. Martin, Music, Blacksburg Elementary/Primary School

“We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”

 …

  1. I think part of a best friend’s job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.
  2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.
  3. I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.
  4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.
  5. How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?
  6. Was learning cursive really necessary?
  7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on #5. I’m pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.
  8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
  9. Bad decisions make good stories.
  10. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.
  11. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don’t want to have to restart my collection…again.
  12. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.
  13. Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the heck was going on when I first saw it.
  14. I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take two trips to bring my groceries in.
  15. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
  16. How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?
  17. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent an idiot from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!
  18. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.
  19. Is it just me or do high school kids get dumber and dumber every year?
  20. There’s no worse feeling than that millisecond you’re sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.
  21. As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers.
  22. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch three consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

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