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 10
27 May 2022
Concussions of angry yelling punctuated the descending night sky over the Men’s Quad, and people rushed into the streets and onto Campus Green where a great tumult of protest was underway. The television evening news had been President Nixon himself addressing the nation to announce that he had ordered American ground troops to invade Cambodia from Vietnam, and that invasion was already underway. Nixon had expanded the war. The impact of this news was incendiary, campuses across the nation exploded into outraged protesting. May Day was the following day.
On 4 May 1970, Ohio National Guard troops, called out by the governor to quell an unarmed peaceful mass protest against the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, shot and killed four students and wounded nine others on the campus of Kent State University. The outrage sparked by news of the Kent State Massacre amplified antiwar protests across the nation, which had already been underway since the 30 April announcement of the ground war in Cambodia.
On 8 May 1970, the Beatles released their album ‘Let It Be,’ and Nixon went on television to justify his invasion of Cambodia.
In the first few minutes of Friday morning, 15 May 1970, police in Jackson, Mississippi opened fire on a group of students from Jackson State College who were protesting, killing two and injuring twelve.
That Friday evening Sergio was having a panoramic view of Philadelphia through the big windows of an airy apartment that belonged to Elena’s aunt, and situated near the top of a highrise building downtown. Sergio and Elena only had ten days left before they would have to move out of their dorm rooms, and have to part for the summer. Elena had gained the use of her aunt’s apartment for several days that week including the weekend, to feed the cat while her aunt was away. Sergio and Elena wanted time together away from the madness of the outside world, and before the rush of Finals Week starting the following Monday. In theory, they would be studying.
“What makes people stay together,” she asked.
He thought about this for some moments and then opined
“Sex, money, habit, fear, children, memory, help.”
Elena wrote these down.
“That’s quite a list. The first one, I know, is your favorite. The second one is easy to see. The third one is kinda’ sad, but pretty common, I guess. Fear? What do you mean by fear?”
“Well, you can be afraid of getting in too deep, and then when you are you’re afraid you may lose it. So you kinda’ hang on, cling.”
“Children, I can see. Lots of couples stick it out for the benefit of the children.”
“Yeah, I guess if you’re just sticking around for the kids you’d have to be real careful about how you went about your affairs, to keep everything cool with the family.”
“Hmmm… What’s memory?”
“If you’ve been together for a long time, and you’re old, then you’ve probably got good memories to share, and you can watch the reruns to keep from getting bored.”
“Okay, so what’s help?”
“When you’re really old and your body starts falling apart, you’re going to need help for things you used to do for yourself.”
“Like wiping your ass. And it would be really hard to find anyone else to help you out with that. Anyway, why are you asking all of this?”
“I’m going to try writing a last article for the Campus News if I can, or one I can get into the Asbury Beach Boardwalk News this summer.”
“Well, I guess you can call it ’The Seven Ages of Marriage’.”
“Ooohhh!,” she exclaimed and scribbled that down, then continued, “But don’t you think that ‘love’ is the right answer? Don’t you think that love is what really keeps couples happy and together? And don’t you think that doing things together is really what it’s all about instead of just trying to get those seven things from the other person, or getting comfortable using them?”
“I see your point. It’s only love if you do those things ‘for’ the other person, and not just to ‘get’ something for yourself. So you show love by doing those seven ages ‘for them,’ and if they show their love for you by doing those seven ages ‘for you,’ then that has to be how you stay together by doing things together.”
“Kindness,” she said, realizing the fundamental truth of the matter, “Kindness is everything. Kindness is how love speaks.”
He looked at her with eyes of longing, his mind an electric scramble of sex and fear. He went over to the table she was writing at, held her hand to guide her to stand, and they embraced and kissed. He motioned his head toward the bedroom, she smiled and followed, holding his hand. She undid his shirt buttons while he cupped the sides of her breasts, and when she’d finished he slipped his hands down her sides and under her yellow tank top, and slid it up over her head and upstretched arms. He dropped off his shirt and pulled his undershirt off quickly before Elena could undo her bra. He pulled her in tight into his embrace, wrapping his left arm around her waist and bringing his right hand over the vexatious three hooks clasping her bra together. By deft finger technique he was able to undo them all one-handed while kissing her. He had a very satisfied look on his face and she looked at him with amusement over his delight in this boyish fantasy triumph. They broke to shuck their pants and underpants and then hopped into bed, rolling into each other’s kissing embrace. Sergio extended Elena’s arms over her head to arch her chest upward and then slowly slid his palms down from her wrists, along her arms to her chest, in across her glorious breasts and over their large hard milk chocolate nipple rounds, and down around the bottom swells to glide down her stomach and waist and converge at the Garden of Eden. She reached up with her hands on his sides by his waist and drew him down toward her and turning to the side so he fell next to her. She brought her face into his for an urgent kiss with her hands on the sides of his face, then sliding her hand down his neck and across his breast down his torso as she kissed down his neck and chest while reaching further down to awaken the Serpent into its tightest coil. Sergio was nearly delirious and sat up to get a condom.
“You don’t need them. I’ve been on the pill for a month. It should work now.”
He stared at her in wide-eyed surprise.
“Come, now,” she said in the velvety voice of impending ecstasy, with her arms held out to draw him in.
And they made love to exhaustion, with all that they had in them to give.
“Are you hungry?”
“After that, yes. Why don’t we make something to eat, or go out?”
“I want to take a shower first.”
“I’ll join you.”
Feeling the warm water of the steaming shower glide over the skin of their bodies, carrying away the sweat of the day and the cares of the year was so refreshingly comforting, and they delighted in soaping each other up, gliding their massaging hands on the warm soapy lubrication over every contour, swell and fold of each other’s body. They spent the following two days of the weekend studying for exams, making love, taking showers together, and of course: feeding the cat. On Monday morning the gauntlet of Final Exams Week began, and they were focused on their work.
The man from Texas, Marshall, was allowing each student in his class on Calculus and Differential Equations to take the closed-book timed exam with the aid of three standard size sheets of paper written on with any helpful notes the student desired. Because they were training to be engineers, Marshal said there would be no partial credit for “effort” alone in identifying or deriving the appropriate formulas for a problem. Engineers are supposed to get numerically accurate “right answers” to problems, because those answers have real consequences in the design success or failure of an engineered construction or procedure, and failure could be fatal. You don’t walk on bridges or fly in airplanes put together on “effort” and “partial credit” alone, the numbers have to be right, or people could die. Sergio had spent many hours reading over his collected class notes and homework sets, and from them and the textbook, made a detailed outline of the entire course, with every significant formula, rule, definition, and illustrative example explicitly listed in that outline. Then he very carefully transcribed this thorough abstraction of the course onto his three sheets, with miniature but legible writing using blue, black and red pens and pencil, and including diagrams. He let no part of his three sheets go to waste, so had literally everything from the course organized and available on his three papers. The concentration of preparing his notes had been so intense that when he actually took the exam he found that he had a complete mental picture of his notes, and visualized the appropriate section in them as soon as he read each test problem’s question. So he was able to very briskly and neatly write out his solution procedure and calculate the numerical answer for each problem with his slide rule, and then have unhurried time to review all of his test answers for correctness of procedure and to recalculate all the numerical results to be certain of their accuracy. He was exhilarated before even turning in his test booklet when time was called. This was the class that had terrorized the sophomore engineers and had been the most difficult class of the year for him and of college so far. Sergio would ever after make midterm and year-end summary abstracts in a similar fashion of his course notes in preparation for exams, regardless of whether those exams would be closed-book or open-book, because he realized that the value of the exercise was in gaining the mental photograph of those notes for use in the exams. It was a revelation of intellectual power.
Finals over, there was one last weekend to enjoy before having to move out of the dorms and go home for the summer. People were ambling about, lounging sunning themselves on the Greens, with music pouring out of open windows everywhere, kites being flown, frisbees being thrown, bubbles being blown, and everyone unwinding and enjoying themselves in every way they could imagine before having to disperse from the college scene for the summer, some finally declaring their love for another, some finally declaring they were breaking up with another, laughter, tears, joints and beers, heartbreaks and exhilaration, and just relief, it was the annual Great Goodbye.
Sergio and Elena were sitting in a circle of five, relaxing on Campus Green enjoying the sunny warm spring weather. Joe was there, and Joe had a girlfriend! Her name was Gail and she was an economics major. She seemed a bit mousey, timid and reticent, but one could sense she was protective of her wifty poet, and very likely bossy enough to keep him on the straight and narrow for performing the practicalities needed to ensure his success in dealing with Denver. It would be interesting to see, Sergio thought, how the four of them would get along in junior year in the double Joe and he had gotten on the twenty-second floor of Superblock, if all went well with the Draft for Joe. Elena knew about Sergio and Joe’s Superblock apartment, but did Gail? She’d probably make it work for her poet. And the fifth member of their circle was Bernie.
“So, what are you going to do, Elena?”
“I’m going home to Asbury Park for the summer, and try working for the ‘Beach Boardwalk News’. I wrote a story I hope will interest them, ’The Seven Ages of Marriage’,” — Sergio and Joe looked at each other with eyeroll, on that one, — “I think people at the beach would read something like that. And, I’ll just have fun at home, cook with mama.”
“How about you, Sergio?”
“I’m going home for a week or more, till after Memorial day, and then this person,” pointing to Elena, “has got me a job working in her dad’s marina in Asbury Park. I think it will be a lot more fun hanging out around the shore and boats, swabbing decks and sanding hulls for repainting, than breathing fumes from soldering irons in the electronics plant back in Deer Park. And the pay’s better. But it’ll also be kind of scary situation since I know eyes will be on me.”
“Don’t worry,” Elena laughed, and then impishly, “we’ll get away sometimes.”
Sergio thought: “yeah, jump on me.”
“So, Joe, what are your plans?”
“I am going to dental school. It’s better than economics,” and then turning quickly to Gail, “for me,” then back to the group, “and it will be okay with or without the Army. They haven’t called past 195 yet, but I’m only one away. Gail and I are going to Denver for the summer. Father seems happy.” At this, Gail smiled.
“Still writing poems?”
“Yes! I sent in a poetry book manuscript to City Lights Bookstore, in San Francisco, and submitted poems for the anthology they are publishing to memorialize Jack Kerouac on the one year anniversary of his passing, on October 21. So I hope something gets published.”
“What are you going to do, Bernie?”
“I’m going on a research expedition to Costa Rica with Professor Windark and some graduate students. He does evolutionary biology.”
“What about, you know, the Draft?”
“Oh, they called me, and I flunked the physical.”
“WOW! That’s great! Fantastic, man! How’d you do it?”
“I figured I just go in when they called me, and skip to Canada if I passed the physical. But it’s cool now. They found I had a bradycardia arrhythmia.”
“My natural heart rate is always below 60 beats per minute. The record for that is guy with 26 beats per minute, but I’m higher than that. You’re supposed to get a pacemaker to keep a slow beating heart regular, so it doesn’t go too low and you pass out for good.”
“And you knew you’d flunk because of this?”
“No, actually I didn’t. I didn’t know I had it and it never bothered me as a kid. Then because of smoking grass and taking acid, my heart rate was elevated into a more normal rate, they’re vasoconstrictors and heart stimulants, and I smoked grass and dropped acid a lot. But I wasn’t stoned or on acid when I went to the physical, because I didn’t want to get busted, so my heart rate was down below 60, however long they made me wait to keep checking it, and they wrote me off. The Army isn’t going to pay to put a pacemaker in me so’s I can carry a rifle.”
“Amazing! So what you’re saying is that you’re healthier on drugs, your drugs, and being ‘clean’ for the Army is unhealthy!”
“That’s pretty much it.”
“You were born for acid!”
“Immunity has been granted to us because we did not lose our cool.”
And so they passed a pleasant afternoon, feeling the warmth of the sun and the glow of their friendships, telling their stories and saying their goodbyes till next September, and then they went off into their various scenes for the night and for their continuing adventures thereafter. The Draft never did call beyond 195.
Monday was moving out day for Elena. Sergio was helping her pack her stuff in Hill House, and carrying it out to her parents’s car parked on 40th Street. That’s where he had his first face-to-face with them. Elena’s father, Stewart Feldon, was a tall, well-built wavy sandy-haired English-type man who looked like Sterling Hayden. Elena’s mother, Victoria, was a dark-eyed raven-haired darker complexion curvaceous Sicilian woman who looked like Anna Magnani. It was obvious where Elena got her height and her contouring from.
“So, Sergio,” Stewart, the sea captain, began, “we’ll expect you around the 2nd?”
“Yes, I’ll come in on the train, and call from the station.”
“Good. There’s plenty of work at the docks and yard to keep you busy. We have a room at the house, that’ll save you on rent, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy Victoria’s cooking.”
“Zuppa di clams!” Elena piped up.
“Elena tells me you like Italian cooking,” Victoria addressed him.
“Very much,” and Victoria had her eyes on him, and Sergio felt like Marcello Mastroianni.
“Any questions?,” Stewart asked.
“How will I get to work? Walk?, bike?, ride in with you?”
“He can drive Danny’s dune buggy!” Elena piped up.
“He might do that,” then Stewart explained to Sergio, “Danny’s only 14 and hasn’t got a license, so he can’t drive his dune buggy yet, but he likes to ride in it.”
“He’s got a dune buggy!?”
“A Meyer’s Manx, he put it together from a kit, and he’d like an engineer’s help in pepping it up, getting it set up right. I work on boat motors all the time, and that got Danny interested, so we got the kit.”
“Sounds like there’ll be a lot to do.”
“Yep, you’ll be busy.”
“Any chance I’ll get to go sailing?”
“Yeah, in high school I crewed on 37-foot sloop for a neighbor who ran in the winter series races on Long Island Sound. I did the jib, tacking, winching, luffing, jibing, putting the spinnaker up. Got cold in November, my gloves froze solid.”
“That’s good. We could use a hand who knows sailboats. We’ll start you off at $150 a week, and $25 for extra days. Weekends can be busy.”
“Okay, I’m looking forward to it.”
The car was loaded up and time for Elena to go. She came up to him and hugged him goodbye, and he was a bit stiff and nervous with the eyes upon him.
“Oh, just kiss me!,” she whispered in his ear, and he did, tenderly, with a full heart.
Elena and her parents got in the car, and she rolled down her back seat window to lean out and wave her smiling goodbye as Stewart pulled the car away, and Sergio could see dark eyes smiling at him from the front seat.
Sergio was a bit down with Elena having left, but maybe it would all be good in June in Asbury Park. His parents were driving down the next day to move him out. He packed his stuff — much less than Elena had — easily enough in Paine-103, and then had the whole afternoon and evening to pass by himself. So he went to the Bookstore, filled with seniors graduating in two days, with their relatives, shopping for University sweatshirts and other souvenir mementos, and bought four books. Back at the Quad, he found that Fred was still there.
“Fred!, you’re still here.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna’ pull out tomorrow. No rush.”
“Here,” handing Fred the brown paper bag with the books, “I think you’ll like these. Hope you haven’t read them all.”
Fred pulled out the books: ’The Razor’s Edge’, ‘On the Road’, ‘Earth Abides’, and ’Slaughterhouse-Five’.
“Gee!, thanks! No, I haven’t gotten to any of these yet.
“Let’s go get pizza and beer. I owe you. We can walk.”
Twenty minutes later they pulled up in front of Napoli Ristorante on Fred’s motorcycle.
“What will you have, boys?” Claudia asked, with a mild smile of approval.
“You go, Fred.”
“Large, sausage and onions, and pitcher of Rolling Rock.”
“You know Janet Hoffman? She’s going out with Brad Jackson, the quarterback.”
“I know who she is, She’s the leader of the Cheerleading Squad.”
“Yeah, she’s quite a pip. I know her because she was Angie’s room-mate, and we got to talking. So next fall when you’re out there practicing for the games, say hi to her for me.”
“She is something else. But she’s not going with Brad anymore, she’s going with a doctor in sports medicine. Brad’s a second stringer, practices with the team but just sits on bench for the games.”
“Yes, she’s a girl headed for success.”
“Hey, whatever happened to Angie?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea. I haven’t seen her around. My guess is that she’s working in psychology, and in the movement. She’s intense. Everybody’s chasing their own dream, makes us split apart.”
“Not with Elena, right?”
“No, not with Elena. That’s going strong. I’m working at her father’s marina this summer. You? What’ll you be doing?“
“Probably motorcycle mechanic for some of it. There’s other jobs I can get. And read your books!”
It was all good.
The next day Sergio’s parents and brother arrived to move him out. It was so nice to be with them. There is nothing like the love of your family to give you comfort and confidence in life. “I’m lucky,” he told himself, and he never forgot it. As they were hauling Sergio’s suitcases out of Paine-103 they crossed paths with Fred, hauling a duffle bag out. Fred lived lean, he had less stuff.
“It’s all in there,” he said, “strap it on the back of the cycle and ride on out.”
“Let’s find each other next year, Fred.”
And they each headed out.
A week later, Sergio was looking at the countryside of Monmouth County rolling by, from the window of his New Jersey Transit railcar headed south. Asbury Park station was coming up soon.
“Well, what’s going to happen to me next?”
Everybody went on to their eventful lives. The long year of spring-to-spring across 1969 and 1970 had set them each on uniques trajectories, on decades-long courses of dreaming and awakenings, of lives that when reflected upon now seem like glints of sun and shimmers of moonlight on the waters.
On Earth Day, 1970, Sergio became his own man: he then knew what his purpose was, how to confidently love a woman, and he was free to pursue both without any constraint beyond those imposed by whatever personal limitations he was unable or unwilling to overcome. That long year of 1969 into 1970 set him into becoming the man who managed to survive the adventures and misadventures of the succeeding five and more decades, while maintaining his integrity, nurturing his family through to his children’s independence as adults, and loving them all for the duration of his time among the living.