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 3
12 May 2022
Milky white soapy water filled the spiral groove of the fine drill bit which whirled into a slender gray blur at the push of a button, then slowly penetrated into the tiny guide hole, cutting through the sleeve of a clamped brass gear and down into the slender steel axle rod of a mechanical rheostat controller for a component in a US Navy radar set for its destroyers, as Sergio gently pulled down on the lever of the drill press, and the milky lubricating coolant surged up into a rolling foam ring filled with fine metal chips that circled the bit around the entrance of the bore as the drill cored into the workpiece. Once through, the drill was raised and stopped, the workpiece wiped off and blown clean with pressurized canned air shot through a thin plastic extension tube, and an oiled tapping screw was cranked in by hand to cut threads for the subsequent connecting screw that would hold the gear to the shaft, having first been dipped in varnish that would dry within the microscopic gaps between the threads, forming an adhesive bond. Once practiced at it, the whole operation would take about ten minutes, and if there were no problems like drill bits snapping or gouging into the holes twisting themselves into hot jammed plugs, he could make fifty assemblies a day, six to seven an hour, for an eight hour workday.
He punched the clock in at 8 am and out at 5 pm, and had an hour for lunch — homemade ham and cheese, or tuna salad, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — between noon and 1 pm, five days a week. He produced about 250 finished assemblies a week, at a minimum wage of $1.65 per hour. So, $13.20 a day, $66 a week, about $290 a month. Without taking any time off, except weekends and national holidays when the plant was closed and he wasn’t paid for them anyway, he might be able to fit in up to 70 work days all summer to gross $924.
But deductions for Social Security Tax, US federal income tax, New York State income tax, and IBEW union dues, could in total take between 25% to 30% of his gross pay to leave him with between $646.80 to $693 that he could bank on, for his three-and-a-half months of summer work. And, he might want to spend some of that money to help enjoy the fourteen to fifteen weekends of his summer, perhaps going to the movies, buying records, slices of pizza, hamburgers, ice cream milkshakes and sodas, while on his bicycle excursions out to the towns and beaches along the North Shore of Long Island within a day’s ride (round trip) of his parents’s house, and maybe even buy some gas for his parents’s 1959 Ford that he drove to work on rainy days and on longer excursions out to Fire Island, East Hampton and Montauk Point. So, “fun” might cost him, maybe, an average of $10 per weekend for fifteen weekends, for $150, leaving him with a total savings of between $496.80 to $543 for the summer.
If the plant had a rush order and authorized work through a holiday weekend, as with the Memorial Day or Labor Day weekends, he could work those days for double pay, $3.30 an hour for a $26.40 eight hour day!, and if the plant was so desperate that it allowed for overtime work on such national holiday weekends, he could make three times his normal pay rate after 5 pm, for $4.95 per hour! In the summer of 1969, Sergio was able to get four days of holiday work and four nights of overtime holiday work to net $195.36 beyond his total net pay during normal hours on regular work days, so by the end of that summer he banked $718.55 after expenses. It was all pretty boring, but he needed the money for school, to relieve financial pressures on his parents, and to exert his own independence. He yearned to make it on his own as a creative engineer.
In the last days of May, Sergio received a letter from the Draft Board informing him that due to the large number of appeals that had been filed before his, that his hearing had been postponed till June. In the first days of June he received a notice from the Draft Board ordering him to report to the Manhattan induction center by the end of the month. Once again, he typed out a request for an appeal hearing, and mailed it off. The same rigamarole occurred at the June-July cusp, the July-August cusp, the August-September cusp, and at following monthly intervals through 1969. There were a lot of guys doing the same thing as he was, and that bureaucratic mass very fortuitously clogged the Selective Service system for addressing — and finally rejecting — appeals. But with each succeeding month his case came closer and closer to the head of the queue, and he had no idea when his time of trial would finally arrive.
On June 28, a riot broke out in Greenwich Village at the Stonewall bar when the gay men whose scene this was erupted into mass belligerent opposition to a violent raid against them by the New York City Police Department, which had long been harassing them. Lesbians and gay men from across the city came to the scene, joining in the combat and protests that occupied the next six days. News about the riots was largely blacked out from television broadcasts, but the facts could not be suppressed from word-of-mouth, and Sergio knew about them by July 4, “I wonder how many of Roger’s gang got their heads bashed by the cops, and how many of them got to bash a cop?”
He’d penned a letter to Angie in Pittsburgh, to tell her about his boring life, and to ask what she was doing. The most interesting thing he could write about was his discovery of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s books ’Slaughterhouse-Five’ and ‘Cat’s Cradle.’ A month or so later he got a handwritten letter from Angie telling him she worked as a cashier in a shop owned by a relative, and spent most of her free time seeing old high school friends, and also being involved in home-life with her parents and siblings, and in the many gatherings of her large extended Italian family and with all of their family friends. She didn’t seem sad, but she didn’t seem particularly happy either, and she didn’t really give many details. He could tell that she wanted an independent life away from Pittsburgh, but he didn’t know what it was specifically that she wanted to get away from. She did make it very clear, though, that him visiting her was a very bad idea because of the protective and clannish attitudes of her people. It made more sense for Angie and Sergio to just stay put, save money, and do what they would be willing to do together once back in Philadelphia. Aside from this brief and colorless veiling sketch of her personal situation in Pittsburgh, she did write in an animated way about Timothy Leary joining John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their Montreal bed-in, on June 1, and Lennon subsequently writing a song called ”Come Together” for Leary’s independent electoral campaign to unseat Ronald Reagan as governor of California.
Sergio spent long hours watching television news broadcasts on 20 July, covering the very first Moon Landing. The actual live black-and-white video transmitted from the Lunar Lander was so fuzzy that he only saw clear images of the scene months later, after the astronauts had returned to Earth and the rolls of film they had exposed on the Moon with the Hasselblad cameras they’d been issued by NASA were processed and the pictures publicized; and the live voice transmission of Neil Armstrong’s words on stepping onto the lunar surface were so garbled that Sergio only found out what they were when Walter Cronkite later recited them to his CBS News television audience. Historic certainly, but so remote from the conscious flow of his personal experiences and present state of mind.
The colossal gathering at the Woodstock Music Festival occurred during the 15th to the 18th of August, and the television news images of that sea of people, and the miles of completely congested highways resulting from their mass migration to upstate New York, were stunning, satisfying and amusing. He had dismissed his first brief impulse to try to go to Woodstock, with the realization that so many of his generation would swarm the Festival in hopes of hearing the wide array of popular rock-and-roll, folk, and blues bands and musicians scheduled to play there, that roads would become clogged far in advance of the festival area, and the crowd would be so big that it would be impossible to get close enough to the stage to see and hear well, and that there would be no normal places to stay overnight to sleep. And that is exactly what happened for most of the Woodstock Pilgrims. But to the great credit of the vast majority of them, they spontaneously created an anarchy of peace, love and harmony despite the mud wallow that the whole area turned into. It was all a beautiful counterbalance to the enormous and outrageously expensive campaigns of mass murder being carried out in Vietnam at the same time by the rigidly hierarchical authoritarian structure of American military might. “God, why can’t we take all that money being dumped into destroying Vietnam, and use it to ‘Woodstock’ our whole damn country instead?”
Sergio had made no effort to seek out any of the town boys from his Catholic high school. He had an implacable determination never to look back to high school or to any of its people ever again. High school had been too filled with annoyances and stupidities to ever merit fond retention in memory. He had blasted off out of that scene and toward college as soon as he could, like an astronaut rocketing out on a one way trip to another galaxy.
He would bicycle to the public lIbrary in town, where he would read books on race cars and racing drivers, like Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, and books by Henry Ricardo on water cooled piston aero engines, like the 24 cylinder sleeve valve Napier engine with four 6-cylinder banks arranged in an H, and the supercharged overhead poppet valve Rolls-Royce Merlin V12, which powered the Spitfire fighters and Mosquito fighter-bombers of the Royal Air Force during World War II.
On one such visit to the library, he chanced to see a notice in the North Shore Reporter for the coming funeral of Matt Kelly, one of his high school classmates, who had been shot dead in an ambuscade while on patrol with his Marine platoon in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Matt had joined the Marines right after graduation, which had been his stated ambition all throughout high school. The newspaper notice showed Matt’s official Marine Corps picture, with his square little head that had always sported a crew cut, smiling broadly under his big new stiff Maine Corps cap and in his crisp new dress uniform, posed next to the Stars and Stripes. Matt had always been a cheery guy, so short he barely made the military’s height requirement, just as he had barely made his high school’s graduation requirements. He had always known what he wanted to do and he didn’t need more education than what being a Marine required. It was from Matt that Sergio had learned the joke: “God made whiskey to keep the Irish from conquering the world.” Matt had always regaled his classmates with jokes and proud boasts of his Irish family’s deep roots in the military, all the way back to the IRA. Now he had been ingloriously laid to waste in the pointless Vietnam War, and all that the US military returned to Matt’s family for the use of their boy was a filled casket, a folded flag, a small monetary death benefit, and Matt’s posthumously awarded Purple Heart decoration.
Sergio wondered if poor Matt had ever been able to get laid before getting laid out. Maybe he had achieved that universal boy’s dream before leaving town, from a compassionately obliging town girl, but he had never known Matt to have had a girlfriend for he certainly would have told everybody if he had, or maybe he was initiated into binary orgasmic bliss by one of the American hookers who patrolled the boundaries of Boot Camps in the States, or much more likely by one of the desperate Vietnamese hookers who swarmed around Uncle Sam’s military installations in their country, or maybe poor Matt never got laid at all and had been tragically robbed by the patriotism con from ever experiencing one of life’s truly great joys. Sergio detested this war.
Among Sergio’s deep pleasures during his free time was listening to classical music from his large and ever growing collection of long-playing records. He had been captivated by classical music since becoming transfixed on hearing Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite for the first time, as a 5 year old. In his private refuge of solitary reverie, on weekday evenings and weekend afternoons, he would sit in the den-room of his family home listening to the music that had always nurtured him: zarzuelas with their Puccini-like Art Nouveau tunefulness and arias conveying Spanish verve in love stories mixing playful comedy and lovelorn anguish, and which always ended with uplifting happiness; or piano concertos and symphonies and tone poems by Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Debussy and De Falla, among others. He spent $30 of his summer earnings to buy a portable turntable, like Joe’s, for taking back to college.
He didn’t buy pop music records because pop music was ubiquitous and so easy to get to hear. It was everywhere: cascading from radios out of car windows, dorm windows, fraternity windows, in pizza parlors and hamburger joints, and from turntables as in Angie’s Hill House suite, and throughout the Quad. From Angie and her Hill House circle, Sergio had gained an in-depth education on the “bright promise” branch of 1960s pop music: the Beatles, Lovin’ Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield, Janis Joplin branch of the genre; and from Joe he had gained an in-depth education on the root of Jack Kerouac ‘On The Road’ 1950s Beat style poetry that had branched into the 1960s folk-blues-rock style of talking music that had flowered with Bob Dylan; and from Bernie he’d gained an appreciation of the psychedelic mind-blowing Jimi Hendrix offshoot of that root. But it was all on his own that he had found The Doors, because they spoke most clearly to his feeling of a poetic soul yearning for liberation being relentlessly squeezed by dark forces seeking to crush and consume it. They were the musical voice of his personal 1960s, in his estimation the best American rock-and-roll band ever.
Later in August, Sergio saw ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ and ‘The Wild Bunch’ at the movies. The first movie spoke to his wanderlust, and the second, which was both more amusing and more poignant, showed him how the Manhattan induction center he had been ordered to report to would most likely look. ‘The Wild Bunch’ was a cowboy’s slow motion shoot-em-up splatterfest vision of Hell, which was obviously actually raging in Vietnam. It all made him want to get back to college in Philly, to make the most of his time — both intellectually and romantically — however long or short that time was going to be.
In early September he was able to move into his small upperclass mens single occupancy dorm room in the Quad. It was time to reconnect with his dreams of fulfillment in technical creativity, and in sexual love.
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 5
16 May 2022