A TEMPERING OF DREAMS is a novel: pure fantasy with imaginary characters, and no effort whatsoever at historical accuracy. It is based on remembered images of a bygone time, and has no particular purpose beyond enjoyment. It will appear serially as each chapter is completed; there is no schedule. MG,Jr.
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 1
8 May 2022
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 2
10 May 2022
“To understand the workings of Nature requires a disciplined mind, and acquiring that discipline is called gaining an education. But ‘understanding’ is much more than just simple classification and calculation, it also requires an ability to evaluate, which means a way of being able to integrate a cohesive pattern of meaning out of the jumble of observations, measurements and experiences a person accumulates as they go on living. And that ‘ability to evaluate’ must necessarily include not just the analytical elements of that jumble but the emotional ones as well. Emotions are very compelling and immediate kinds of encoded messages conveying some, always difficult to decode and ascertain, meaning about the stimuli, or traumas, or forces, or situations that cause them. So to really understand the workings of Nature a person must be capable of perceiving and integrating the complete jumble of analytical and emotional reality that form the entire complex of a person’s experience with the external world AND the entire complex of their own organic totality. But this is like saying that to understand Nature completely a person would have to abstract and encase all of external and internal reality, both analytical and emotional, into concepts that would fit into the forms and protocols used by their brains ‘to think’ consciously. But this is a contradiction because it would mean being able to contain all of reality within a small portion or subset of that reality, like trying to fit all of the Universe into a fishbowl to be able to imagine looking into that fishbowl and thus ‘understand everything completely.’ But then how is one able to have a perspective from outside the fishbowl after all of reality — which includes this inquiring mind — has been crammed into the fishbowl? So it seems impossible for ‘mind’ to ever be able to encompass ‘everything,’ and so we can never reach a complete understanding of Nature however intricate, refined and vast the expansion of human knowledge becomes because of the commendable exercise of mental discipline. We are each small elements within the total reality, and the total reality can never be totally contained within any of its small elements.”
Sergio looked up from his carrel out a window on the fifth floor of the University Library, at the vertical color gradient of the sunset sky, from honey-orange close to the ground fading into a pastel blue that deepened with elevation into darker blues that became a black of deep dimensionality overhead sprinkled with pinpoints of starlight. With every moment that gradient to darkness descended ever so gradually as if a watercolor wash of extreme viscosity slowly being pulled down by gravity, on a living picture hung before him that was framed by the wood trim around the window.
He had come to the Library to study in the deep peace and quiet of its top floor in the evening, and thus escape from the ubiquitous agitations and distractions and annoyances of student life in the dorms. Later, once deep night had set in, he would go the the top of the Physical Sciences building to join his Astronomy class in observing planets through the large refractor telescope installed there since the early 1900s. He had planned to spend his time in the Library working on calculus, but his mind was too unsettled for that, and it drifted to other complexes of thought. And that led him to write out a reflection on the question: can a human mind ever completely understand the workings of Nature?
Maybe he could eventually extract some poem ideas out of that ramble, and then again maybe not. But really, why was his mind so skittish? He certainly wasn’t able to focus on the Fundamental Theorem of Differential and Integral Calculus right now. So it seemed clear that the “analytical” in his mind was temporarily displaced by a darker and more powerful amorphous force: emotions. Clearly, for him at this time “emotions” could only have one meaning: Angie. So how indeed does a boy engineer solve an undefinable emotional problem?
“Analysis is defeated if definition is impossible, so an emotional technique has to be used to solve an undefined emotional problem, and the only such technique I can think of is: intuition. The only chance you have of solving any problem is to face it directly, and not try to deny it or escape from it. And so to solve an undefined or undefinable emotional problem you have to face into all its amorphous ambiguity and uncertainty, and approach it with intuition; and whereas in the application of analysis ‘what is right’ is determined by logic and intellectual rigor, in the application of intuition ‘what is right’ is determined by honesty and universally compassionate morality. In both cases, the logical and the moral person accepts that ‘the right answer’ may not at all be the most convenient, or preferred, or happy, or profitable answer to oneself. But the logical and the moral person always accepts ‘the right answer’ because they are committed to doing their best, as a personal expression of their self-worth, and they are committed to accepting ‘the right answer’ because that is the greatest positive contribution they can make to the rest of humanity, so that is a personal expression of human solidarity.”
Sergio closed his math book, and focused his mind on Angie. After a little time reflecting on her, he took up his pen and wrote out a poem about her. Actually, it wrote itself once he opened his doors of perception to allow its release. He penned a clean copy on a sheet of paper, which he carefully placed within a pocket of his vinyl folder, and then gazed back at the deepening night.
“Are you still mad at me?” Janet’s question startled him out of his reverie.
“Janet! No. What are you doing here?”
“Same as you, getting away from it all so I can do some useful work.”
“And what’s that?”
“Stuff for my medical technology major, but also stuff for the Woman’s Association.”
Janet went on to explain that while cheerleading and football were fun, what really motivated her was helping to solve the medical issues tangling up so many women’s lives: being caretakers of children, the infirmed, the old, and being straddled with the biological stresses of their own womanhood: their hormonal cycle and birth control, pregnancy and giving birth, and worst of all: their enslavement and oppression by men who used legalisms that usurped a woman’s control of her own body even to the point of killing her, by denying them access to abortions.
“No woman wants to have an abortion. That is always a measure of last resort to solve a difficult problem in the medical care and the life of a woman. We need better medical technology to give women better healthcare so they are less likely to develop conditions that could lead to them needing an abortion, and we need really really good legal guarantees that allow women to get safe medical abortions when they need them, so they are not driven by desperation to get scraped out with a coat hanger and then bleed to death in a back alley.” Janet stopped, and realized that she may have let her passion on this propel her too intrusively into Sergio’s perception. “I just came out of a Woman’s Association meeting, so I guess I’m a bit fired up right now.”
“No need to apologize. You’re right. I never realized you had such passion. But I guess it makes sense, it’s like a different form of cheerleading, more serious, more important. And you are definitely a person committed to doing things with energy.”
“So, how’s it going with Angie?”
“Angie is an intense yet delicate creature. I can’t say I understand her, but I am really attracted to her. Maybe she understands me better than I know her. And what about you with Brad?”
“Ha! I like good looking guys, who are strong. But I also like them to be aware, especially about what women have to go through.”
“I don’t know, Janet. It may be hard to find one guy who combines all that.”
“I know. I think that’s why it’s hard for so many couples to stay together. Everybody needs too much, and people change as they grow older.”
“Sounds like we would need a sequence of lovers over our lives because its impossible to stay happy with any one person forever.”
“I think so, for lots of people.”
“We’ll see. And you?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it until you bounced on my brain.” At this from Sergio, Janet squealed with delight.
“I want to give you something. I hope you don’t take it wrong.”
“Forewarned is forearmed, Janet.”
“These are some samples we talked about in the Women’s meeting,” and she pulled out three packets of condoms from her bag and put them on the carrel. “A man who uses these can help prevent a terrible tragedy from happening in a woman’s life. Not all women can use birth control pills, and sometimes they slip up, or the pills don’t work perfectly. And, you know, we aren’t legally protected enough when it comes to abortion.”
“I think you are very sweet to think about protecting Angie in this way. No, I don’t take you wrong, thanks for the education.”
“Okay! This one over here,” she pointed to one of the packets, “is latex, pretty strong. This one,” pointing to a second one, “is lubricated latex, which is good if chafing is a problem. And that one,” pointing to the third packet, “is lamb skin. It’s the sheerest material, made from lamb intestines, and lubricated, for getting the most feel, but they can break if used with a lot of roughness, which you shouldn’t do anyway because you’re supposed to be LOVING someone!”
“You are a very interesting person. I don’t know if Brad will be able to survive.”
“In exchange for all the instruction you’ve given me tonight, and these presents, I want to ask you two questions.”
“What is your last name?”
“WHAT! You haven’t looked in the Pig Book?”
“I didn’t bother to buy one.”
“And since you are the number one ‘date target’ in the Pig Book according to all the guys, and since you almost got me pounded by the Hulk who actually is dating that number one girl, it would be nice for me if you gave me the following date: come with me to the roof of Physics building and join my Astronomy class, where we will each look through the telescope at one of the planets, then I’ll walk you back to Hill Hall.”
“Is this your version of ‘jump on me’?”
“Ha! Yeah, let’s do it!”
And that is how Janet Hoffman and Sergio Romero each got to see a bright image of the planet Saturn and its rings, after solving a tangle of emotional problems that were as yet undefined in the analytical realm. Quite a date.
Next day after morning classes, Sergio went three blocks further west from the Quad, on 38th, to Rocky’s Market. He bought an 18 inch hoagie with capicola, soppressata, provolone, shredded lettuce and pepperoncinis laid into a garlic olive oil and wine vinegar seasoned Italian torpedo roll, and he bought six individually wrapped marble-sized spherical milk chocolates. It was all a dear $5, but worth it at Rocky’s. “Thanks for the Italian Kisses, Roger,” he thought on his walk back, past the Quad, past Campus Green, and down Locust Walk to a stone bench in front of the Mechanical Engineering building. Along this stretch, Locust Walk was a shady treelined flagstone footpath between the Mechanical Engineering, and the Chemistry and Geology buildings, both archeological relics.
Sergio ate his hoagie on the bench, then quaffed it with a can of root beer from the vending machine in the basement of the ME building, and went up to his afternoon lab session of Engineering Drawing in the Drafting Room on the third floor. The Drafting Room had a tall ceiling and big windows, which were opened. They gave views out to the bright speckling of sunny daylight mixed with quivering greens from the upper foliage of the trees, and allowed refreshing breezes laden with birdsong to wash into the room. As he worked with his t-square, various drawing triangles and rulers, to sketch out scaled plan and perspective views of the mechanical vice which had been assigned, by a listing of its dimensions, as the object of the exercise, he thought “Boy, if I had to do an engineering drawing of Angie, I’d have to use nothing but French Curves.”
As Sergio turned the corner onto the short dead-end hallway of his dorm floor late that afternoon, he was startled by “JANET HOFFMAN!” yelled out by Seth Green, who occupied the big dorm room at the end. This brought all the guys out to their doorways.
“You are dating Janet Hoffman!” Seth bellowed with an undisguised abundance of envy. Seth Green, shortened from Greenblatt by his father Mo Green, a big New York City real estate lawyer, had two all-encompassing attitudes: a sense of privilege that entitled him to have more and sooner advantages than his male rivals, and deep envy and resentment of those male rivals who he imagined were getting, and taking away from him, what he felt he deserved preferentially. For over a semester now, Seth had bragged how he was set to get laid before any of them because he was allowed to party in his older brother’s fraternity, Iota Phi Theta, before even the Rush Season had started. He had an “in.”
“Come on, what ever gave you that idea?” Sergio had been fed up with Seth since the third day of Freshman year, but he didn’t voice it.
“A guy in my brother’s fraternity is in that Astronomy class, and he saw you there with Janet Hoffman, and she’s not in that class! Then you walked down to Hill Hall with her. So how did you get to date her?”
“I’m not dating Janet Hoffman.”
“Yeah, and what’d you do that night in Hill Hall then?”
“Spanish study night.”
Joe, entirely amused and delighted, asked “The conquering hero. What is she like?”
This just twisted the knife in Seth’s gut. Sergio was “getting” the top shiksa of the year, and Seth loathed him for it. He went back into his room and slammed the door. The other guys just looked wistfully at Sergio and then drifted back into theirs.
Sergio went into Joe’s room and asked to borrow the Pig Book, which was a directory of the 1968-1969 Freshman class, with black-and-white passport type photos arrayed alphabetically, and tagged with the closest University hallway or suite phone number for each student. The Pig Books in the men’s dorms had mostly been permanently creased to open at “H” where Janet Hoffman’s picture was. Sergio carefully flipped through it until he arrived at “F” and found Elena Feldon, from Asbury Park, “a Jersey girl” he thought. She had a big happy toothy smile in her photo, wearing a light colored V-neck pullover sweater, and tumbles of long wavy curls over her shoulders in front on either side of the expansive swell of her bosom. He gave the Pig Book back to Joe, who observed, “Seth is being most ungracious about your success.”
“He’s an idiot. He’s dreaming about scoring a hot babe over at big brother’s I-Felt-a-Thigh frat, and the girls here are all too smart to fall for that. Wanna go eat?”
“Yes, capital idea. And then?”
So they ambled down to College Hall for Meal Plan dinners.
After, in the big second floor lounge of College Hall, looking out onto 38th, a sizable crowd was watching a televised news report about the big reveal of the day by the New York Times. President Nixon had ordered secret aerial bombings of Cambodia, along its border with Vietnam, since March of that year, two months earlier. Sergio became very pensive at the news.
“Have you heard from the Draft Board?” Joe asked.
“I got a letter telling me to report by the end of May, and another telling me my appeal hearing is also scheduled for the end of May.”
“I believe then it is time.”
“Yes, most definitely.”
And they went back to cleanse their minds.
The next morning walking into Campus Green on the way to class, Sergio came upon a huge protest. All the classrooms had been emptied, and the student body was one massive agitated swarm that had engulfed Campus Green and occupied College Hall. He even saw many of the professors hovering around the edges of the crowd. He drifted through the mass, looking at the people, reading the protest signs, and listening to the numerous chants and rants. It was a gloriously beautiful warm day, and perfect for lounging on the Green, but only a cynic — or a Republican — would think that the students were using an unjustifiable protest excuse to get out of classes just to play outside. College Hall was completely jammed with occupiers, and had become stiflingly hot. He spotted Elena Feldon, threading her way through the crowd, climbing the stairs into College Hall.
He came upon Bernie sitting calmly cross-legged on the grass.
“Hey, Bernie, what do you think?”
“I don’t know, man, it’s getting bad.”
“This fucking war…”
“Can’t end soon enough.”
So Sergio sat down next to him and they both absorbed the scene.
“So what have you been doing, Bernie?”
“Biology,” and he showed Sergio his books: ‘The Study of Instinct’ and ‘Social Behaviour in Animals’ by Nikko Tinbergen. “I’m getting into ecology. The Santa Barbara Oil Spill over the last four months has really keyed me into that. And you?”
“Engineering stuff, and this,” Sergio held out a paperback copy of ‘Catch-22.’
Joe came upon the two them, and sat down making it a threesome. He was toting his obligatory anvil of an economics textbook, along with Gary Snyder’s poetry book, ‘Regarding Wave.’ And then Angie appeared. Sergio was very happy to see her, and introduced her to the guys. She could tell that she’d like them, and on meeting her the guys had kind thoughts about her with Sergio. She sat down making it a foursome. She was carrying her doorstop of a psychology book, and Sylvia Plath’s novel ‘The Bell Jar,’ in a printing from England. The social gravity of the massed protest gathering finally brought Janet into their orbit, and she joined them, too. Sergio was getting looks from both Angie and Janet at this point, and wondered if he had entered a crossfire at the DMZ. But the girls seemed relaxed, and all seemed cool. Besides her textbooks, Janet had a copy of ‘The Feminine Mystique’ by Betty Friedan. So all their dreams and interests mingled, bonded by antiwar sentiment.
The crowd on the Green gradually dissipated as the late afternoon ripened, though the rebels occupying College Hall held out well into the night. When finally only Angie and Sergio were left from their group, he said, “I have something for you,” and handed her a little paper bag of chocolates, and a clear vinyl sleeve enclosing a sheet of paper, the poem. “I promised you kisses and a poem, and there they are.”
She looked in the bag, “Baci!” she chirped, delighted. She took two out, handed him one, they unwrapped, popped them in their mouths, and she settled into reading the poem.
Love at Dawn
I still can feel your dawn-window eyes
as I walk through this night,
and I still can smell your long, dark hair
softly catching the light.
The sweet taste of your tender lips
I still can savor with care,
and the warming voice of your soft, soft skin
still glides upon my face.
I still can feel your dawn-window eyes
as I walk through this night,
this night though but a wisp of the past
is an eternal delight.
She looked at him with shining eyes, opened her arms, and drew him into a lingering kiss.
“Janet’s going to be away tonight. Do you want to visit?”
“To study Spanish?”
“We can do a little bit of that first.”
“I’ll go get a few things, and meet you for dinner.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
And they had a lovely quiet lyrical evening, with the boundaries pushed back even further so that the cotton and nylon layers could be dispensed with and the hands of love touch deeply. But there was still a boundary, and Janet’s presents were not yet needed.
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 4
13 May 2022