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 8
22 May 2022
Sunday after New Year’s 1970, Elena and Sergio rushed into each other’s lovemaking as soon as they could find one another, after having arrived back at school that weekend. Then they rushed into a week of studying, scribbling, typing, calculating and cramming for the impending week of final exams, only taking a break during the next weekend to refresh themselves by the restorative powers of enthusiastic physical love. After running the gauntlet of Finals Week they emerged into the delightful ease of a week without classes, between the end of Fall Semester and the beginning of Spring Semester. Sergio took Elena to the Philadelphia Opera on the 21st, to see Giacomo Puccini’s opera, ‘La bohème.’ It was nice to drop the jeans and pullovers, and dress up for a change, in a suit and tie for him and a floral print dress for her, and enjoy an unhurried evening of casual elegance with lush live romantic classical music. They even added grace to the usual close jolting squealing zappy space inside the SEPTA underground trolley they rode downtown in, merely by the tastefulness of their attire and serenity of their happiness. Earlier that day, Timothy Leary received a 10-year sentence for his conviction on a 1968 offense, with a another 10 years added soon after for a 1965 insult to American Social Orthodoxy that the Guardians of Hegemony by the Capitalist Ancien Régime remained resentfully offended by. Thus, Leary was scheduled to serve a total of 20 years consecutively. Many murderers and swindlers served less, but then their crimes were not violations threatening the foundations of the American Social Orthodoxy, just instances of inconvenience within it. On the following Sunday, before the beginning of Spring Semester classes the next day, Elena took Sergio to the premier of the movie, ‘MASH,’ and his reaction after was: “Glad I’m missing the war.”
Walking casually down the main pathway through Campus Green on the way to his afternoon class in Nuclear Physics, Sergio was surprised to suddenly came face-to-face with Angie, who had walked in front of him from somewhere off to the side.
“Angie. Hello. How are you?”
She looked at him for a moment with a serious though neutral facial expression.
“Why haven’t you called me?”
“Well… you told me not to.”
“I didn’t tell you not to call me ever again.”
“You told me not to call you until after I had changed.”
“Yes, and that was quite a while ago, so…”
“Well, I haven’t changed, and I’m not gonna’ change. I like me just as I am. And… I’m happy with what I’m doing now.”
She looked him in the eye with her same calmly serious expression, perfectly masking he knew not what within the caldron of her emotions. Well, maybe not perfectly, there may have been the faintest possibility of a hint of sadness around the outer corners of her lovely lushly lashed dark eyes. Then she turned away and walked down the pathway, to Hill House he imagined. He watched her recede into the shadows under the trees, and disappear in the distance around the corner of the Library. Then he resumed his own walk to class. He never mentioned this encounter to anyone afterwards, but he never forgot it.
“Look at this!,” said Sergio proudly to Elena over a week later in Paine-103 on a Friday night, showing off his latest invention.
“What is it?”
“A hookah! Now we’re set like Caterpillar! I made it from plastic straws and a big soda cup from The Underground, the bowl part of my pipe, and a bit of plastic tubing I got at the hardware store.”
The contraption was quite ungainly. He had the front part of his walnut burl pipe, which he had brought with him to college in anticipation of sitting like Sherlock Holmes in an armchair unlocking great mysteries while perfumed by the rich aroma of sweet tobacco, propped up between books, with its stem connected via a short length of soft plastic tubing to a straw plunging into a pool of water in the lower half of the large waxed paper container, closed at the top with a plastic disc lid, and a second straw extending from the air space above the water, through the lid and out above.
“See? We just put the stuff in the bowl, light it up and suck it up bubbling through the water, cooled and smoothed.”
It didn’t work very well, smoke escaping directly up from the bowl and out the taped gaps where the straws poked through the lid, and the mouthpiece being too narrow to allow for sufficient suction to be imposed to create the desired smoke flow. But, they did get a little, and it was all good for a laugh.
The day before Lincoln’s Birthday, Sergio arrived at the Physical Sciences and Mathematics Building a bit later than the start of Professor Koppelman’s lecture on Calculus and Differential Equations, to find an ambulance parked out by the sidewalk in front of the building, and an agitated crowd of students standing off to the side. As he entered the broad airy naturally well-lit by a wall of windows, low ceilinged breezeway that formed the lobby, two or three men in uniforms, one being a police officer, came rushing out of the auditorium Sergio was headed for, and raced past him toward the entrance, wheeling a gurney carrying a body wrapped entirely with a beige covering. The auditorium was empty when he looked in, and the blackboard in front had some equations written in white chalk on it. A sheet of paper with a hastily written “Class is cancelled for today” was taped to the auditorium door. On walking back outside, Sergio noticed drip trails of dried blood on the shiny polished stone floor of the breezeway. Outside, the ambulance drove away, and he got the whole story from the jumble of nervously disjointed fearful chatter among the students.
Koppelman, a full professor, had been shot in the chest and killed by a former graduate student, a man called Cantor, whose proposal for a mathematics thesis Koppelman had rejected, after which Cantor dropped out. Cantor had appeared today at the start of Koppelman’s lecture, with a gun, shooting the professor dead and wounding another member of the Mathematics Department, Oscar Goldman, who had been rushed away to the hospital, and would survive. After shooting the two mathematicians, Cantor shot himself dead.
Koppelman’s lectures had been very dry and exacting, being expositions of proofs for theorems, and of existence, uniqueness and limiting conditions, and all delivered in an uninterrupted monotone of refined German-accepted perfect English of measured pacing. He clearly was a very knowledgeable man in his subject and tried delivering it with all the clarity he thought himself capable of. But he was not an entertainer, and was entirely unaware of the soporific effect of his delivery on much of his sophomore audience. Sergio could easily imagine that such an opacity of awareness of others may have driven an undoubtedly inherently unstable Cantor over the edge with frustration over his failures of interaction with Koppelman. Within a week, the School of Engineering had moved all its students, who had been in Koppelman’s Mathematics Department class, into a substitute course on the same material, now taught by an Electrical Engineering professor, a Texan with a short flattop crewcut, a real drawl, and who wore string ties. He wasn’t an entertainer either, but he was dynamic, clear, uncompromising, and would later provide Sergio with the greatest insight about studying and taking tests that Sergio would receive during his college education, and which technique led to all his subsequent academic successes.
Saturday was Valentine’s day, and Sergio planned an evening in Paine-103 with Elena, listening to the new Doors album, ‘Morrison Hotel,’ that he’d bought on its release just five days earlier. He was all excited and just about to load his kludgey hookah, when Elena, with barely suppressed impish mirth said,
“Wait, I have a present for you.”
She pulled a compact construction of a type Sergio had never seen before, out of a brown paper bag and plunked it on the desk. It was a short length of wide thick-walled hard-plastic purple-tinted transparent tubing bonded at a slant angle to a wider disc base. A shorter length of narrow metal piping emerged at an angle from the lower part of the long side of the wide plastic tube, and was capped by a round wooden pipe bowl with a shiny round wire mesh jammed down into its hollow.
“It’s a bong,” she said, and poured some water into the plastic tube to cover the length of metal pipe within it.
The bong worked much better than Sergio’s hookah contraption, and they very much enjoyed their athletic sex accompanied by Doors music that night.
In early March, Elena was busy writing papers for her classes, and news articles for the Campus News, while Sergio was spending his evenings at the Computer Center, running and rerunning programs to solve problems of calculation. He had discovered that one could get decent hot meals with good fresh salad at all hours, and cheaply, at the University Hospital Cafeteria. The hospital was on the opposite side of 38th Street from College Hall. One such evening, eating late in the nearly empty room, Janet Hoffman came in to buy some take-out food. She was dressed in a woman’s white pants suit medical uniform, and her hair was clasped in a blonde twisted twirl at the back of her head. She spotted him and came over, sitting across the table from him.
“Janet!, what a surprise. What are you doing here?”
“I’m working in a doctor’s research project in medical technology for sports medicine.”
“Wow, that sounds involved.”
“So… How come you haven’t called Angie? Did you really leave her?”
“Janet, I didn’t leave Angie, she dumped me. She wanted me to change, and I’m not going to. I like me as I am.”
“Well don’t hate her for that.”
“I don’t want to hate anybody. I don’t have any rancor toward Angie, I wish her happiness, I really do. But I also wish me happiness.”
“Are you seeing somebody else?”
“What is she like?”
“Well… she’s a kook, she’s happy, she’s wonderful, and I’m happy.”
“Seems like things go fast with you. How long do you think this going to last? Do you think you’re going to stay with her longer?”
“I’m not looking for anything else. I’ll give it what I’ve got in me to give, and stick with it until I can’t, for who knows why, and who knows when. You’re the one who told me that people have a tough time staying together because they expect too much from each other, and they change — or grow — with time. Anyway, how’s Brad?”
”He’s probably okay.”
Sergio let this pass without comment, and then changed the subject.
“I want to give you something I wrote out for myself, from my journal. I guess I’m done trying to polish it up, so take this clean copy,” handing Janet a neatly penned sheet of paper. ”Really, it’s you who put the idea in my head.”
“Okay, thanks. I gotta’ go.” Janet took the sheet, folded it in thirds, and put it in a side pocket of her uniform jacket, then got up to leave
“Good seeing you,” he said, and then she turned and left. Sergio left shortly after, walking under lamplight up 38th Street through the cool night.
Janet took the elevator up to the Adaptive Medical Technology and Sports Medicine Laboratory, and went to her corner of it to continue logging measurement data from lab notebooks of the medical research doctor for the project, while munching on her tuna sandwich and apple. She was alone in the lab, and when finally done with her chore for the night, pulled out the paper Sergio had given her, unfolded it, and read the following.
True perfection is unique. You cannot duplicate a true perfection by trying to flatter it into existence with repeated imitations. The only true perfection you can ever feel is the uniqueness of a perfect moment. You may have many moments of apparent perfection in your life, but each must necessarily be unique to be truly perfect. The only way to preserve moments of true perfection is to remember them in all their uniqueness, without regrets for their brevity and rarity, and without concern for trying to reproduce them.
You cannot solve your problems by asking the world to change around you to preserve them. You can only solve your problems by facing into them and changing what you are willing to change in yourself to eliminate them, and accepting what you must be willing to accept from a hostile world in order to maintain what you are unwilling to change about yourself. In this way you live your life with confidence, liberated from the self-deceptions of false hopes.
An artist who is committed to his art knows that he may have to sacrifice a love to stay true to his art. Thus is the steel of your commitment to your art tempered by the quenching of your incandescent ardor in the deep chill of sacrificed loves. So be very clear that the art you commit to is worthy of the sacrifices it will entail, because the art and loves you hold true to are the heart and soul of your very life, and the sparkle of that living will be those moments of true perfection that arise spontaneously out of the depths of your commitments.
You and I have shared a perfect moment, like two birds who chanced to perch briefly on the same branch while on their separate wanderings and long migrations. Even if you never remember that moment with me, its good will carry through the course of your life for having set you on the heading you chose to take for being who you wanted to be.
Sergio and Joe had crossed paths on Campus Green.
“You wanna’ room with me for next year? Housing’s just called for applications for apartments in the Superblock Tower they’re building out on 38th.”
“That would be pleasant, but I don’t know if I will be here next year.”
“Yeah, I know. But, hey, look, let’s apply now to be sure we get one, and plan for the best. If it doesn’t work out for us, the University will throw somebody in there to make sure it gets its rent.”
“Yes, excellent thinking. Let’s go apply right now.”
And so they did.
On a Sunday later in March, Elena took Sergio with her on a visit to the University Museum. She was doing research on American Indians for two papers she was writing, one for Anthropology, and one for American History. Elena had chosen American Indians as the subject of her papers to benefit from an economy of effort. Beyond that, American Indians were an interesting, compelling, and too often tragic subject. She was keen to write the story. They walked through the galleries of the Museum, peering into glass cases filled with artifacts, from ancient “natives” all over the world, that University archeologists, anthropologists, ethnographers, historians, missionaries and explorers had collected over the last two centuries.
“How’d they get all this stuff?,” Sergio asked.
“Stole it! Like everything else they got from the Indians.”
“Well, they’re taking some of it back now, they captured Alcatraz.”
A band of American Indians, activists in AIM — the American Indian Movement — had ferried themselves across San Francisco Bay to occupy the abandoned federal prison island of Alcatraz, “The Rock,” just before last Thanksgiving. Since then, many others had come to join them and help broadcast their protests at how Native Americans had been mistreated in the past, and were continuing to be mistreated and neglected in the present day, by the Great White Father’s American Society.
The week of midterm exams followed, with Elena scribbling and typing furiously, surrounded by opened books: Helen Hunt Jackson’s ‘A Century of Dishonor,’ Dee Brown’s ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,’ and Webster’s Dictionary among others; and Sergio slipping the middle stick of his log-log-decitrig slide rule and gliding its lined viewing window furiously back and forth for his calculating. Then, after a tender night together, they each went to their family homes for the nine days of Spring Break. Sergio celebrated his twentieth, on “362,” jumping butterfly handlebar banana seat 24-inch wheel bicycles with his younger brother off ramps propped up on a dirt hill, hearing his father’s arias reverberating from the shower, and with his mother’s cooking of tostones al mojo de ajo, arroz con azafrán y frijoles negros y picadillo, and a dessert of hot homemade blueberry pie topped with whipped cream. That was his Easter Sunday. It was so good to be alive.
A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 10
27 May 2022