A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 7

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 6
19 May 2022



“What are you making, mommy?”
“We don’t really like turkey, so since it’s just the four of us tomorrow, I’m making Beef Wellington en Croûte.”
A long thick chunk of beef tenderloin was marinating in a big pot, she was rolling a large thick rectangle of dough encasing cold butter to prepare the puff pastry dough for baking tomorrow, open gourmet cookbooks lay on the kitchen counter, and a dusting of white flour covered the area.
“Are we going to have any dessert?”
“Of course. We have to have dessert when you’re here. I’m going to make English Trifle.”
He couldn’t wait.

The best way of ensuring a great Thanksgiving meal was for him to get out of the kitchen. He wrapped a wool scarf around his neck, put on his heavy clothe coat, a knit wool cap, and went for an afternoon walk to see the bare tree limbs reaching up into the sky, and the brown flakey remnants of fall foliage tumbling with a rustle along the ground with each breezy gust, sounding like sea-foam sweeping up a beach. After his return home, he went into the den to watch the television news.

“Congress, today, abolished a provision in the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 which prevented the president from modifying the selection procedure, and President Richard Nixon has issued an executive order prescribing a process of random selection. A lottery, based on the birth dates of the registrants, is to be held on December 1st. The number of men required for military service will be inducted in the numerical order that their birth dates are drawn in the lottery. Selection will also proceed by age group, from younger to older.” Sergio was stunned by this announcement on the 7 o’clock television news. So his fate now rested on the outcome of a game of chance in which his birthday was his predetermined bet.

Thanksgiving at home with his family, the next day, was wonderful. Two days later, Sergio took the trains back to Philadelphia. He spent most of Saturday and Sunday reading ’The Sirens of Titan’ and ’Siddhartha,’ to keep his mind occupied and away from anxious anticipation over the Draft Lottery. On Monday evening Sergio was in the College Hall Student Lounge in an overflowing crowd, watching the CBS News television broadcast of the Draft Lottery. Loud mournful groans were sometimes heard from stricken losers reacting to the drawing of their numbers. But mostly the crowd watched in a sullen silence of dread. As the drawing proceeded, the crowd segregated into a tight packing of people up front close to the television, waiting to hear their numbers called, and a back fringe of small groups chattering about what they or their friends would do now. Both sections of this congregation slowly shrank by people filtering away as the evening wore on.

It became very late and with only a few people remaining in the lounge. Sergio was nearly distraught thinking he must have missed hearing his number called. Then his birth date was drawn and announced as number 362. Did he hear that right? He thought to ask someone if they had heard that too, but by then the room was practically empty and no one was left who had been paying any attention.

He went downstairs to The Underground, but it was too late in the evening and it was closed. He walked out to Smokey Joe’s but it was packed and filled with the din of yelled efforts at conversation clashing into each other. They were all about the lottery. He was a mass of unceasing internalized tremors of electrified uncertainly.

He decided to buy a newspaper to see a printed listing of the lottery results, but he would have to wait for the December 2 edition to be delivered to the vending machines. So he went out into the deepening chill of the foggy night to patrol the newspaper vending racks for blocks around, hoping to find a newly restocked machine, or to intercept a delivery. Finally, he stationed himself next to a lamp post by a newspaper vending dispenser with November news still in it, and waited. At 3:52 am, a newspaper delivery van pulled up, and the driver switched out the old papers with the December 2 edition. He handed Sergio one in exchange for coins. Sergio sat on the curb, quickly paged through the paper to the lottery listing, and read the small print in the imperfect light for what he thought was “362” for his birthday. He was so stone cold stiff, bleary-eyed and buzzy-brain heavy-headed from fatigue and lack of sleep that he decided to check again later in the warmth of Paine-103. He trudged back to his room through the cold predawn darkness, threw himself into bed, and fell instantly asleep.

The clear light of midday sun shone straight down through his window onto his face, and on opening his eyes into that dazzle he realized he was awake. He got up and spread the newspaper out on his desk, scanning the little numbers of the list: 362. My God! Could it be true? Maybe as with elections, the first printed numerical results were usually inaccurate. He needed somebody else to check. He went over to Joe’s. He wasn’t in. He went over to Bernie’s. No one knew who he was, so he must have gotten an apartment. The Quad was nearly vacant, everybody was out. He put on his clock-radio to find a news broadcast that was reading out the lottery results. There were none. What to do?

He wrote his birthday on a scrap of paper, then went out, around the corner of the Quad from Paine to Morris Residence Hall and knocked on a door. Fred opened it, surprised, so Sergio had guessed right.
“Fred, what number did you get in the lottery?”
“I’m not registered for the Draft, I’m still seventeen.”
“Fred, I want to ask you to do me a big favor. Would you please go buy a newspaper and see what number my birthday is in the Draft Lottery. I really need somebody to check. And can you do it right away?”
Saying that, Sergio extended the scrap of paper with his birthday written on it, and a five dollar bill, for Fred to take.
“Sure. But whoa, a paper doesn’t cost that much.”
“I know. I’m hoping to make it worth your while to do it right away.”
“I know what you need. I’ll be back soon as I can.”
“Thanks, man.”
Fred put on his jacket and left. Sergio went back to his room and sat on the bed, watching, trancelike, the slowly shifting coruscations on the painted texture of the wall, with the drifting of sunlight over time.

Fred returned. He’d bought an afternoon paper. The number was 362. There was no doubt. A news article stated that the Draft estimated taking men with numbers up to at least 180, and possibly up to 200. Sergio deflated into relief.
“Thank God. Thanks a lot, Fred. Thanks a lot.”
“Here’s your change.”
“Oh, keep it.”
“Na, you take it back. You can buy a good lunch with that.”
Fred handed the money back to Sergio, who shoved it into his pants pocket.
“I’m so tired, but I should go get some food. I haven’t eaten since before yesterday.”
“Come on, let’s go get some pizza and beer. I know a place.”

Fred led Sergio around the outside of the Quad and over to the motorcycle lot to his Kawasaki 500. The thing was a beast, a screamer. It had a three cylinder two-stroke air-cooled motor, which kind have no moving valves and burn up their oil along with the gas, and was really like having three large finned lawnmower engines merged into a single bank. Two chromed exhaust pipes splayed out from the front of the motor and curved around into slightly upswept partly muted swollen organ pipes along the right side, a single pipe was the same on the left. Fred keyed open the steering lock, swung his left leg over the long banana seat, tilted the bike upright and heeled the kickstand up, keyed the ignition on, and kick-started the motor. It burst into an insistent high-pitched growling buzz. Fred twisted the hand grip throttle with a few pulses, and the engine revs rocketed up and down, with faint blue plumes of burnt oil billowing out the back of the pipes.
“Hop on.”
Sergio swung his left leg over the back of the seat, gripped the sturdy chromed handgrip bar that curved around from side to side behind the butt-stop of the seat, lifted his feet onto the rear footpegs, and felt the tingling vibrations of the bike hinting at caged fury. He nodded to Fred that he was ready.
“Hang on.”
Fred twisted the throttle, released the clutch, and the bike shot forward hunkering down on its rear springs to send a jolt from the back bar up Sergio’s straight tensed arms, and lifting the front wheel nearly off the pavement. Fred took them west past the campus along old tree-lined 38th Street, his sandy hair streaming behind him like flames in the cold whistling wind, with Sergio looking ahead through his hair whipping against his face, over Fred’s shoulder into the buffeting airstreamed panorama kaleidoscoping into them. Fred rode them past Rocky’s Market then turned right for two blocks, and pulled up to the curb in front of Napoli Ristorante.

The dining room looked quaint, with its wood paneled walls festooned with straw weave meshed empty chianti bottles and hung with pictures of Capri and the Bay of Naples, and with red checkerboard cloths on the tables. Fred and Sergio went into the small pizzeria along the other side of the long wall of the main dining room, since it was open all day. The pizzeria was largely empty, probably because of the hubbub after the lottery, and they took a varnished wood-topped table, sitting facing each other.
“What kind do you want to get?”
“Pepperoni sounds good to me,” Sergio replied.
Fred started to get up to order the pizza when the woman in back called out to him, “Relax, I’ll come over.” She was a middle aged middle sized American Italian in a pastel red blue yellow green swirl patterned loose fitting blouse and a simple black draping calf-length skirt, and with black flats for footwear. She seemed to know Fred.
“What’ll you have?”
“My pal here hasn’t eaten for over a day, so we’ll take a large pepperoni, and a pitcher of Rolling Rock.”
The lady nodded assent, and turned to Sergio, saying “Hi, I’m Claudia, beer’s coming right up.” She went back, yelled into the kitchen, “Gino! large pepperoni!,” and after setting the beer to pour out of the tap into a plastic pitcher, she brought them two tall slim curved flat-bottomed glasses. Then she went and came back with the filled pitcher. “Pizza’ll be out in a while, so relax.”
“What time does the dining room open?,” asked Sergio.
“Five o’clock.”
Fred was wiggling his hand off to the side, signaling to Sergio “Yeah, well maybe sometimes.”
“We serve till 10, or 11. I’ll bring your pie over when it’s done,” and with that Claudia walked back.

Rolling Rock was a mid-state beer, unpretentious and inexpensive, perfect for consumption in quantity, which is how it was enjoyed by the salt of the earth in the mining towns and rural hamlets of the farming country that Fred was very familiar with. Pitchers of Rolling Rock could wash away your sins of bad luck, and mellow out your temporary little victories of life. Fred and Sergio eased into their beers, telling each other their personal stories. Claudia brought over two paper plates and a dull stainless steel knife. A paper napkin dispenser and shakers of flaked red pepper and powdered garlic were already on the table. In time, Claudia brought over the big steaming pizza, and its warm aroma was glorious. The guys pulled out slices for themselves, using the knife to cut through the gooey connecting strands of mozzarella that had flowed between the slices that Gino had cut, by the oven. They shook pepper and garlic on their slices then chomped down greedily, huffing out opened-lips breaths to cool down the burning roofs of their mouths. This was heaven.

“So, Fred, what are you majoring in?”
“Football now, I guess. But I don’t know later.” Fred wasn’t interested in football as a career, it was just his ticket into the University, where he hoped to get enough education so no matter where he ended up, he’d have a good job and a better life. He didn’t seem concerned to flee from his hometown, and could happily live and work there “as long as it isn’t down a mine.”
“What kind of work would you want to do?”
“Something that uses my brain instead of my back.”
“How about engineering, that’s what I do.”
“My math’s only good enough for me to become a machinist, and I can work as a mechanic easy enough. But I kinda want to do something else, words instead of numbers. I like reading.”
“Oh, yeah, what’s your favorite book?”
“The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers!”
“Well, you won’t get to write any English papers on that here. They want Shakespeare.”
“Hey, Fat Freddy is Falstaff, or Porthos.”
Sergio reflected on this for a moment, then said to Fred, “You are a very interesting fellow.”
“Oh! oh!, more beer!” Fred replied humorously, pouring out beer to refill their glasses.
“So who’s your girlfriend?”
“Angie, but she dumped me. That’s why I asked you to check my number.”
“Oh, man, bummer,” and Fred called for another pitcher. They spent the whole afternoon talking, eating the whole pizza and quaffing down two pitchers of beer. Fred insisted on paying for this session of Sergio’s recovery therapy, which he’d orchestrated, and Sergio thanked him with heartfelt appreciation.
“If we’d walked we could have had three or four,” said Fred as they got back on the bike.
“Or maybe five,” Sergio suggested, adding “my treat for next time.”
Fred fired up the beast and they screamed their way back to the Quad. For Sergio the war was over.

Back in the dark of Paine-103, Sergio looked out his window up at the Moon in the night sky, his record of Los Guaracheros De Oriente playing on his turntable. As the Guaracheros played through ‘Sola y Triste – Vieja Luna’ he finally accepted that his love for Angie had been left behind for good, so he released it too, letting it go into the moonlight to disappear forever. Even though his heart was now empty he realized, as the Guaracheros played through ‘Alma Libre,’ that that emptiness was really his heart being liberated to love again, who knows when, with as much fullness and passion as he had experienced during the previous seven months.

Cuando te encuentres muy sola y muy triste
sin nadie en el mundo que sienta por ti,

Cuando te encuentres muy sola y muy triste
sin nadie en el mundo que sienta por ti,

Recuerda siempre que yo fui en tu vida
que con mis caricias tus penas calmaba
con migo viviste,
con migo aprendiste
los horas mas dulce que nadie vivió

Ahora quel al fin ya te marchitaste de mi lado
creyendo así que marchitaba mi existencia
si yo perdí ha una mujer que no me amaba
tú perdiste quién te quiso con pasión.

Quiero escaparme con la vieja luna
en el momento en que la noche muere
cuando se asoma la sonrisa blanca
en la mañana de mi adversidad

Quiero de nuevo revivir la noche
porque la vieja luna volverá
ella quien sabe donde está mi amor
ella sabe si aquella perdí

Vieja luna que en la noche va.

Igual que un mago de Oriente
con poder y ciencia rara
logré romper la cadena
que sin piedad me ataba

Igual que un mago de Oriente
con poder y ciencia rara
logré romper la cadena
que sin piedad me ataba

Saltó en mil pedazos como fina copa
lo triste de mi vida se volvió feliz

Logré que este amor de mí se el acaba
también tanto poder yo me acordaba

Perfume de alegría y de alma libre
sin penas ni rencores yo sabré vivir
Si me quieren sé querer, si olvidan sé olvidar
porque tengo el alma libre para amar

Logré que este amor de mí se el acaba
también tanto poder yo me acordaba

Perfume de alegría y de alma libre
sin penas ni rencores yo sabré vivir
Si me quieren sé querer, si olvidan sé olvidar
porque tengo el alma libre para amar.


A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 8
22 May 2022


2 thoughts on “A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 7

  1. Pingback: A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 6 | manuelgarciajr

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