A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 2

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


Chapter 2

A nearly imperceptible breeze of freshness carried the muted cacophony of city sounds past the Ginkgo foliage in the courtyard below, through his open window to caress him awake. Sergio found himself in his own bed. “So I guess I made it out of Joe’s sometime before dawn,” he thought to himself. Then he remembered, “Holy shit! I’ve got Chemistry!” So he briskly rolled himself out of bed, looked at his watch, quickened his pace and dressed, grabbed his books for the day and huffed down to the Burness Building’s big ancient steeply banked auditorium with the Chemistry lecture already underway, and found himself an empty wooden seat in the back row. He took out his notepad and ballpoint pen, and began trying to listen, and figure out where they were in the subject.

“Organic chemistry” said a velvety mezzo soprano voice next to him, “Chapter 8. We started it last time, remember?” Sergio turned, surprised, “Thanks, yeah,” he said nodding. She had a lovely oval face framed by long thick straight black hair that tumbled over her shoulders and down her back, dark eyes set in clear glistening whites and rimmed by long mascara-enhanced lashes, a delicately shaped nose, dark well-defined brows and a lush rosy button of a mouth. “Thanks again,” he said as class was breaking up, and she smiled back. Everyone left Burness and scattered to other classes. He saw her walking up Campus Green ahead of him, her black hair fallen over her purple long-sleeve pullover and down to her waist with the wispy ends waving across the top of the flare to the lower half of her fulsome hourglass figure, which was covered by loose-fitting dark blue jeans.

He climbed the stairs to his Spanish class in College Hall, settled in with notepad and pen ready, and then noticed that she was in this class too. They smiled their amusement at this coincidence, across the room to each other. After class they walked to meet and introduce themselves. She was Angela Celli, a psychology major. Since neither of them had a class for an hour, Sergio suggested they get coffee in The Underground, the snack bar in the basement of College Hall. That would be his lunchtime breakfast, with cream and sugar for added substance.

Angie was from Pittsburgh. As she told him about herself he looked into her beautiful face and down her long-chain brass necklace with its big round gleaming pendant resting on the deep purple stretch knit top covering the swell of her ample bosom, right over where its hidden deep valley would be. Angie offered Sergio a cigarette, and they both lit up, smoked and talked over their coffees.

“What’s that?” Angie noticed that Sergio had a separate journal book, obviously not for school.
“Oh, it my poetry book. I write poems.”
“Yes. I learned to do it watching my father. He wrote many romantic poems to my mother, and he loves to sing arias from zarzuelas.”
“Spanish operettas. Gay ’90s stuff.”
“And you’re studying engineering?” They both laughed at that one.

“Where have you been!” They were startled to see Roger Solely right there booming his greeting. “Sergio! We have missed you, man, since last semester. What happened? You disappeared!”
Sergio introduced Angie to Roger, an upperclass man, telling her that he and Roger’s buddies had often gone to concerts downtown early last fall, before school had gotten too intense for him.
“Oh, we saw D’Oyly Carte’s ‘Penzance,’ ‘2001’ in Cinerama, ‘Madame Butterfly’ with the glorious Beverly…” Roger rattled off happily to answer Angie.
“Sills, for Beverly” Sergio interjected for Angie, then to Roger, “Look, Roger, engineering is hard, man, and I’ve really got to study all — the — time!”
“You’re such a good boy. Look, call me, we get together all the time, and I’m putting up some sketches at an Architecture show that’s coming up and I want everybody to come. And don’t be a stranger!” With that, Roger flipped his dangling silk Paisley scarf back over his shoulder and trotted off.

Angie looked into Sergio’s face with an inquisitive yet amused look. Sergio wondered if an anthropological observation of his psychological profile was now underway.
“You know, last semester when I got here, I met Roger and his pals, and would go out with them to the opera and movies, since I love classical music and they do too, and they knew the town, and always got tickets. Also, they had all kinds of booze in their apartments, and that was good for me. Anyway, just before Thanksgiving vacation, we were all in the room and kind of a fight broke out, and I saw that I was being seen as the prize in a ‘Boys in the Band’ kind of setup. Roger got kind of heated, and claimed I’d be spending Thanksgiving with him, not any of them. I’d already figured out that he wanted my thick lips around… well, you know. He was dreaming. They all have some quick wits, and they know a lot about artsy stuff, but they’re not my scene. I can go see the symphony by myself if I want to. So that’s where Roger’s coming from. I… ah… like people… like… you.”
“Yeah, most definitely.”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“Ah… no. You?”
“Not really.”
“Well, maybe WE can go out sometime.”
“I think that’d be fun.” She gave him the phone number to her shared suite in Hill Hall, and then they each took off to their late classes.

“Have you ever wondered what makes for a beautiful woman?” Joe asked Sergio walking back from College Hall after their Meal Plan dinners.
“Being between eighteen and twenty-one.”
“Nothing more?”
“Miniskirts and tight sweaters help a lot.”
“A lustily physical perspective, but perhaps too limited.”
“Well, they have to have some spirit, know stuff and not be ditzes, and just be nice to talk to. Why do you ask?”
“You seem in a much better mood than yesterday, and I don’t think it is only from hash afterglow.”
“I met a girl in class today, and she’s… interesting.”
“I got a phone number, maybe she’ll answer it someday.” So Sergio told Joe the outlines of that day’s story before they settled into rolling and smoking joints, and listening to ‘The Doors’ and ‘Strange Days’ to kick the ya-yas of the Draft and Colorado out of their minds. Next day Sergio bought Huxley’s ’The Doors of Perception’ at the Book Store. He decided to keep his grades up just in case he could evade the Draft and pursue his engineering dreams. A new image had now been added to that dream complex: Angie.

Angie did answer his phone call. They went out to see a screening of ‘Casablanca’ by the University Film Society in the College Hall theater, and then walked around on Campus Green smoking cigarettes and talking, before Sergio took her down to The Underground to buy them both Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches and coffee milkshakes. It all felt good for both. Angie had to get back to Hill Hall by 11 pm, because she knew the entry monitors didn’t get too upset about having to unlock the gates for latecomers till then. There was a call box on the outside of the fence.

They walked outside from College Hall through Campus Green into the shadows near the big trees far from the pathways, and embraced into a deep kiss. Wordlessly, they lay down on the grass and pressed their bodies into each other within their embrace, kissing deeply, gently, slowly. Her lush black hair brushed against his face as he looked down into her eyes and submerged himself into her gaze.

Time came to go, and he walked her back to Hill Hall. She asked him to call again soon so they could have a Spanish study night in her suite with the girls, who were all in less advanced Spanish classes and some struggling. Then, whistling in his mind, he walked back to his room through a sequence of shadows and street lamps alternately disappearing and then illuminating the granularity of the pathways to sharp relief. The air was cool, he was warm.

Days later he went to the Computer Center in the Electrical Engineering building to work on a Fortran IV programming project. He spent hours typing out his program onto a deck of IBM cards each punched by the typewriter with a hole array encoding one line of his program’s instructions, then feeding the deck into the card reader and waiting for his turn when the printer would clack out his calculated results on big sheets of folding paper connected by perforations. This occurred several times as he corrected errors after each run. Eventually he got it right and was able to carry out a printout with columns of numbers that would satisfy the needs of his assignment. It was getting near dinnertime. He walked across 40th Street to Hill Hall and had Angie called from the reception desk. She appeared, smiling, and led him through carpeted white hallways hung with framed pastel-colored prints of abstracts and landscapes, down to her suite. Five other girls were there. When Angie had invited him, she said he’d get dinner in exchange for his Spanish help. And indeed he did, Veal Parmesan, in Hill Hall’s large cafeteria with all seven of them. The apple pie and ice cream were good, too, and the coffee.

Now that they all knew each other a little bit better, it was back to the suite for study time. After about thirty minutes of pronunciation and grammar corrections, and translations, the talk really started, and the music. And these girls were into the music, they had a huge stack of discs. First it was Janis Joplin’s ‘Cheap Thrills,’ which was without a doubt the gospel music of Hill Hall in 1969. A hash pipe had been produced for that, and gaily passed around to mutual satisfaction. A thick towel had been rolled up and pushed against the bottom of the door, and a vent was blocked with a piece of cardboard, as precautions. After Janis it was Creedence Clearwater for a rollicking stone, and someone mentioned that a Woodstock Music Festival had been announced for August, where Creedence would appear and all kinds of top bands were now signing up for it, and maybe even Dylan and the Beatles would appear. Then Crosby, Stills and Nash was put on the player for the choral part of the service, and after that Judy Collins for the heartfelt poetry of later evening.

It was nearly time for lockdown and the other girls went off to their own rooms. “Do you want to stay?” Angie asked leadingly.
“Sure, but how?”
“Oh, it’s easy, Janet does it all the time. You just stay in here till after the gates open in the morning, we get breakfast, and I’ll take you to the door from there. They’ll never notice.”
“Who’s Janet?”
“My room mate. You don’t know Janet?”
“Won’t she come back? No, I don’t know who she is.”
“She’s the most popular girl in the Pig Book, a cheerleader. I get calls for her ALL the time. All the guys want to date her. Her boyfriend’s a football player and she’s out all the time, his place or cheerleading practice, and class. She probably won’t came back. But if she does, don’t worry, she does the same plenty of times.”

The suite had a small half-bath with toilet and sink, so that was convenient. Shower rooms were elsewhere down the hall. They kicked off their shoes, Angie turned out the lights, and they embraced on the bed into long kisses. He pressed his warm palms into her back and pushed her close as she melted herself into him. Rays of lamplight from 40th Street shone through the window to give the room a film noir atmosphere. Sergio pulled his head back so he could look into Angie’s shining eyes, and caressed the side of her face for a long moment, then slid his hand slowly down her neck to the rise of her breast. She accepted willingly because she loved the feel of his hands: all warmth and gentle pressure with no hurry, no grab.

“Can we get rid of the belt buckle?” she asked. So they each ditched the belts. When they embraced again, he slipped his hand under her blouse in back, and felt her skin. When next they surfaced for air, she unbuttoned his shirt front enough to slide her palm over his chest, she wanted to feel his skin, too. Wordlessly, he took off his shirt and undershirt, and she pulled off her blouse. Then it was so much better, warmth to warmth. As he moved his hand pressure over the contours of her back, he would pass his fingers over the backstrap of her bra, it had four hook-clamps. Heavy duty. He tested lightly to see if he could unhook it one-handed. “You’ll never do it. Here, let me,” and sitting up she undid it letting it fall away. In the half light he saw that her breasts were luxuriantly rounded masterpieces of femininity with large dark nipple moons. Skin to skin was a plush dual ecstasy. Sergio’s pants were getting much too tight, and both their legs were yearning for each other. So the jeans fell away, he had his cotton boxer shorts, she had her nylon panties, all else was skin.

Sergio slowly stroked her fulsome body along the length of it he could reach from within their tight embrace. He pulled back a bit to cup his hand around her breasts, and across them to then run his palm down the deep valley between, and down over her stomach. She put her hand against her waist in front and said “Not below here.”

“Yes,” the boundary was made clear, and he acknowledged that. Eventually his hand began edging past her waist in back and she made no resistance to that move, so soon he was gliding over the nylon caressing her large firm well rounded butt with his warm pressured touch. And she was pulling in on his with outstretched palms, with only a thin layer of cotton and and a thin layer of nylon separating the pulsating urges of their creative forces to merge. Time no longer existed, only an eternity of passionate immersion.

The door opened, light from the hallway flashed into the room and was then cut off as the door quickly closed. Sergio froze, Angie whispered “Janet” into his ear, and he was glad that at least they were under the covers. Janet scurried into the half-bath for a few minutes before emerging to drop herself into her bed on the opposite side of the room. Soon enough she was breathing slow, asleep. Angie whispered “Don’t worry, Janet is cool, it will be okay in the morning.” And they, too, soon fell asleep, warmed entwined in their embrace.

Sergio opened his eyes to see Angie sitting on Janet’s bed with both of them in full length bathrobes. The two girls looked at him as the new day dawned in his eyes.
“Um ah… good morning” he said.
“I’m sorry I came in so late. Hope I didn’t scare you.” Boy, she was bubbly.
“No, no, it was all part of a nice time.”
“Okay, look,” Janet said, “I’ll go up and bring back some coffees and bagels while you two get ready. Brad’s coming over soon for the two of us to go to the practice field,” and off she went. So they took turns for the water closet while the other got dressed. Janet returned with a cupholder tray for three paper-cupped coffees, and a bag of bagels with packets of sugar, creamer and cream cheese. Hill House treated its girls good. She went into the half-bath to dress and prepare herself for her day, while Angie and Sergio relaxed into their breakfast. Janet emerged in surprisingly short time, dressed in a short skirt cheerleader uniform, with her long blond hair swinging in a ponytail, and her delicate faintly freckled face shining with enthusiasm. She was a spectacularly vivacious petite, with a perfect lithe and lean gymnast’s body, and a completely disarming and engaging personality. And what a smile! But she was also an imp.

“Who’s Brad?”
“Quarterback of the JV team. Brad Jackson. He’s on a football scholarship.”
“Are you on a cheerleading scholarship?”
“Well, yeah, but I’m majoring in medical technology. Brad wants to be a pro.”
The phone rang, Brad was ready to be escorted in.
“Oh Angie!, can you go get him, please! I’ve gotta finish and pack my bag!”
Angie laughed as this was obviously routine and left to retrieve the Hulk. Janet hurriedly stuffed her big gym bag with extra clothes, schoolbooks, towel, makeup items, extra socks, a sweatshirt, pens, pads, sunglasses and a brimmed cloth hat. Then she got a bright idea.

“Oh my God! That big lunk thinks he’s so cool and’s got it over everybody. I wanna make him jealous! Let’s play a trick!” She tossed her bag by the door, jumped across the room, and threw herself over backwards to plop onto her bed, whose bedsprings bounced up and down a few times from the impact. She held out her arms and said “Jump on me!” This terrified Sergio.
“What’s he gonna think if he comes in and sees that!”
“EXACTLY! Come on! come on! come on! Before he gets here! It’ll be such a gag, he deserves it!”
Sergio did not move.
“Come ON! Jump on me!” with her arms outstretched wiggling her luscious little body, with a devilishly gleeful grin, just as the doorknob was being turned. Sergio thought to make a break for the half-bath, when Angie opened the door and walked in with Brad, who looked, unsmiling, at each of them, and Janet bubbled “Oh Brad! Aren’t you glad to see me?”

Brad was not happy, but the twelve feet between Sergio and Janet was somewhat reassuring, so he didn’t let himself loose his cool about it.
“Come on Jan, we’re gonna be late. Lets go!”
“Brad, this is Sergio, Angie’s boyfriend.”
The two men nodded at each other, then Janet grabbed her bag (Sergio noticed that Brad had not done so) and the football people left.

“You like Janet?” Angie asked with a very serious face.
“Well yes, she’s fun-loving. But hey, look, I’m not interested in Janet, I’m interested in you.”
“Everybody’s interested in Janet” she pouted, and Sergio then first detected the deep ocean of melancholy that Angie carried within her.
“I — am not interested — in Janet. I — am interested in you. In — you.”
“Guys have dated me because they knew I roomed with Janet, and wanted in”
“I did not know about Janet, I am not chasing after cheerleaders, I — like — you. Really.”
“What were you doing?”
“She wanted to make the Hulk jealous, and I wasn’t doing anything. Look, let me have a kiss, and I’ll write you a poem”
“You won’t get out of it that easily.”
“Well, how about two kisses and a poem?”
“Okay,” and she melted into his embrace to absorb his love.

Sergio walked into his Residence Hall thinking “Thank God I don’t have an early class today.” As he walked down the wing of the third floor hallways with his group of rooms, he saw all the doors open and the guys looking at him as he walked by. Joe, smiling broadly, was standing in the doorway of his room adjacent to Sergio’s. “The prodigal son returns” he said.
“What’s up, Joe?”
“Admiration, I believe”
“I must confess that you were observed penetrating Hill Hall last night, and emerging this morning. So we are… curious.”
“Nothing happened, it was a just a Spanish study night.”
“Commendable modesty.”
“There’s nothing to be jealous about.”
“Yes, admiration is a more pleasant word.”
“Oh, you guys,” Sergio said, shaking his head as he closed the door of his room behind him. “Jealousy” he thought, “amazing!” Then he sat down at his desk to work out some calculus problems. Leaning back, he looked out his window at the beautiful bright day, and suddenly felt very very satisfied.


A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 3
12 May 2022


A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 1

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.



“Oh man!, I’d give up every kind of drug if I could get a motorcycle.” Balmy spring sunshine fell through Bernie’s long brown wavy curls and onto his Italian Renaissance painting of a face, which gave its smooth light skin a soft glow while casting his slightly sunken cheeks into muted shadows. Joe had just told him of a classmate whose father was gifting his son with a new Honda 350, and Bernie just shook his head slowly and gave his reaction to the news in the typically soft calm laconic way in which he spoke, moved, and did everything.

The three of them were shambling across the ragged green lawn inside the Men’s Dormitory Quadrangle in the Spring of 1969, each thinking about something completely different from sitting inside stuffy college lecture halls taking notes on the droning instruction they would need to pass exams on to prove to their Draft Boards that they deserved to keep their student deferments from military service.

Joe was the guru of marijuana rituals in the freshman dorm where Sergio had met him in the Fall Semester of 1968, and been initiated into the smoking arts in Joe’s dorm room bubble of nighttime darkness suffused with Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” issuing from the little record player. Joe, Sergio and a few others on that third floor smoked grass at night as if ancient Hopi men enwombed below ground in a darkened kiva immersed in their merged meditations. As freshmen not from rich families, and shy, these guys had no chance of gaining any of the coeds’s attention at the mixers put on by the Resident Advisors of the men’s and women’s dorms, because there were always plenty of upperclass men with cars, money, grass and experience in attendance, to offer the freshman girls much better opportunities for fun, and better prospects for their husband hunting.

So Joe’s nightly hazy blue bubble of Dylan-infused darkness, with sporadic little orange flashes of flame pulsing out of matchheads and into joints being sucked on, was a refuge from a dangerous and unfriendly world for these boys fresh out of high school and precariously shielded from the Vietnam War by the uncertain promises of their 2-S student deferments.

Joe had a hooked nose set above thin lips always cast into a slight smile for a pleasant face rimmed by dark bushy hair that made him look like a bemused lanky overgrown cherubim. Joe was from Colorado and wanted to be a poet, but his rancher and coal business father insisted he major in economics and plan on joining his company. That is why Joe had made sure to get himself into the University in Philadelphia instead of going to college at Colorado State, and he was hoping to figure out a way of escaping from his preprogrammed fate before graduation in four years, or perhaps sooner if the draft came after him since his grades, except in English, kept sinking. Joe smoked dope all the time, both for his poetic art, and just to make the best use of time during the uncertain duration of his term of freedom.

As usual, Joe was dressed in his blue pajamas, red bathrobe and tawny corduroy bedroom slippers, whose soles were worn ragged by always being scrapped along the asperous surfaces of the sidewalks and streets of the campus and the city, by Joe’s shuffling gait. He was accompanying Bernie on his way to meet Bernie’s friend on the far side of the Quadrangle from whom Bernie got his psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. Bernie, who was Joe’s supplier of grass, had fallen under the spell of mushrooms and acid, and had introduced Joe to psilocybin who also fell in love with it. So Joe was going along with Bernie to buy some for himself. Sergio got his weed from Joe, who was sweet and hardly ever took any money for it, in this he was a missionary: “Everybody must get stoned.”

Sergio liked these two easygoing guys. Bernie was the stereotypical image of a tall lanky hippy. He was bare chested except for a loose and open rawhide vest with dangling strands of fringing that swayed as he walked, he had a rainbow of colors beaded necklace threaded by a rawhide shoelace that hung down to his breastbone, and a similar bracelet that hung loosely around his slender wrist. His unbelted bell-bottom blue jeans were faded, with the frayed stringy bottom edges of the overlong legs dragging along the ground and drooping over his big dusty bare feet. He was beautiful, Jesus never looked better. Bernie was a biology major, maybe. He wanted to walk through verdant landscapes under sunny skies catching glimpses of wildlife, and collecting mushrooms in the woods. Bernie Petrocelli’s people were Italian, his father ran a small produce market in a rural town.

Sergio had joined Bernie and Joe Willis on this languid trek because he wanted to see what the single occupancy dorm rooms for upperclass men looked like in the only corner of the Men’s Quad where they had them, because he’d applied for one for the following Fall Semester of his sophomore year. Sergio was an engineering major because he liked airplanes and submarines and motorcycles and sports cars, and dreamed about someday having his very own sports car manufacturing company like Enzo Ferrari. Sergio wanted to build his own slinky fast-moving motorized chariots. Like Joe, Sergio Romero was of average height unlike willowy Bernie who was noticeably taller, and Sergio dressed like the typical suburban New York kid that he was: with a soft-patterned button-down long-sleeve cotton shirt open at the collar, golden-colored brushed cotton bell bottom jeans cinched with a thin wide brown leather belt that was closed by being looped around through a big brass ring, and squarish suede shoes. Sergio was a Puerto Rican from New York. He had dark wavy hair that he’d let grow out over his ears and down his neck, a wide nose, brown eyes, and a moustache like that of the 1940s movie stars he liked, and that trailed off the upper corners of his thick-lipped mouth, and he had a coffee-and-cream colored skin tone.

The idea of that Honda 350 motorcycle made them all think, especially after hearing Bernie, the most committed pharmacologist of altered consciousness that both Joe and Sergio knew, admit so frankly at how fulfilling possession of such a transport mechanism could be in comparison to all his chemical forms of daring personal exploration. While Joe thought the idea very appealing, as Arlo Guthrie had expressed in song, he still believed some caution was warranted because his hero, Bob Dylan, had been laid up for quite some time the previous year after he’d fallen off his Triumph motorcycle on one of the byways of Woodstock, and Richard Fariña — “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me” — had fatally fallen off of his own motorcycle in Carmel, California three years earlier. And nobody believed Joe would ever give up grass for anything, because it formed his protective cloud of sanity.

Sergio had read the road test report on the Honda 350, “It’s got a twin cylinder overhead valve four-stroke engine,” he told them. He routinely read car and motorcycle magazines, and he hoped to save up his summer job earnings to be able to buy one in maybe two years. He figured that remote as the prospect of getting that bike was for him, it was still more likely than being able to get a girlfriend, and probably safer. Bernie and Joe would have wanted girlfriends too, but that seemed impossible for all of them under their present circumstances. So thank God for weed, and mushrooms, and car magazines, and Joe’s record player, and Draft Cards with 2-S printed on them. Maybe next year they’d each meet and win over some lovely freshman coeds.

They reached the far side of the Quad, with an archway shaped entrance to that 19th century pseudo Oxford-Cambridge architectural style brick-red masonry complex of sleeping quarters that was everywhere edged and trimmed with sandstone ornamentation that featured so prominently in the promotional photographs used by the University. Bernie and Joe entered and went off to the left to find their supplier, while Sergio went right to seek out the first floor room he’s been told he could inspect. It was narrow, the size of a small storage room, which is probably what it had been until the 1940s, and just big enough for a single bed and a desk, and a tight little closet. It had a small window high up at the far end above the desk. What else could he possibly need?, since he expected to just sleep there, and be studying math and physics and chemistry most of his time awake, and go out for meals and doing his laundry.

Sergio arrived at the main archway shaped entrance to the Quad from 38th Street, halfway back from his room inspection at the far side of the Quad, and went to the checkerboard of mailboxes under the archway. He unlocked the one for his room and took out a long envelope. It was a letter from his mother, and that was always nice. He walked happily past the line of stinking Ginkgo trees along the side of the building at the close end of the Quad, and into his Residence Hall, upstairs to his room, and sat on his bed opening his letter. A check made of light blue paper fell out, $100, he loved his mother. He pulled out a sealed letter from the envelope, it was from the Draft Board. That could not be good, his heart sank, his stomach tightened, and his asshole puckered.

A cover letter stated: “You have been reclassified as 1-A because of your academic failure to maintain the grades necessary to merit a Student Deferment.” A new Draft Card was enclosed, with “1-A, immediately available for military service” printed on it. A second letter began: “You have been selected for military service….” and went on to require Sergio to report to a Draft Reporting center in New York City by the end of the month.

Panicked, Sergio rushed to Kenn Lancaster’s suite on the first floor of his Residence Hall. Kenn was a graduate student writing a thesis in political science, and had the job of being the local Resident Advisor in this freshman residence hall. Kenn was a cleancut man from Shaker Heights, Ohio, with light straight thinning hair, a narrow face, and who dressed in the casual collegiate men’s style of the time of button-down shirts, slacks and penny loafers. Kenn’s suite was supplied with a telephone, and Sergio quickly explained his need for using it. Kenn nodded seriously, and walked off to let Sergio make his call.

“How can you say I failed academically? I made the Dean’s List, and I have the letter to prove it. How can you take away my student deferment, you’ve made a terrible mistake!”
The witch at the Draft Board answered in her nasally voice, “You have to come in and report, follow the instructions in the letter.”
“But you’re completely wrong!, you’ve made a mistake!”
“Your name is Sergio Romero, right?”
“Well our records show that you flunked out of college, so you no longer deserve a student deferment.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. You’ve obviously confused me with someone else.”
“It doesn’t matter, once we start the process we just keep going.”

Sergio was thunderstruck. He put the phone down, standing still, his mind paralyzed. Kenn came out of his bedroom and up to him, and Sergio told him what had happened. Kenn took the Draft Notice out of Sergio’s hand and read it through. “You know,” he said, “at the bottom here in small print it says if you have any objections to this notice, you can write a letter to the Draft Board asking for a review hearing of your case and your reasons for wishing an excusal.”
“By when?”
“The end of the month. I’ll bet it would buy you some time.”
Sergio rushed back to his room and immediately typed out a letter to the Draft Board, requesting a review hearing, on the mechanical Olympia typewriter his father had given him as a High School graduation present. He threw on a corduroy jacket, left, took his letter straight to the Men’s Quad Post Office, behind where the mailbox array was, bought an envelope and stamp, sealed the letter and addressed it, and put it in the US Mail postbox.

Then he went out across 38th Street and down to College Hall, bypassing it since he had no appetite for eating a bland mushy Meal Plan dinner in the Dining Room, and across the Campus Green under the oaks and maples to 40th Street, and into Smokey Joe’s. He asked for a beer at the bar, which he knew he’d get since he dressed conservatively enough, and sported a moustache, which both made him appear like an over twenty-one-year-old man legally allowed to buy beer, instead of an underage 19-year-old college kid. He went over to the cigarette machine, popped in two quarters, and pulled the lever for a pack of Winston’s. He lit one up and sucked in that first sweet tobacco flavored hit of little death, sulking over his beer.

Three people walked into the darkly wood paneled cavern that was Smokey Joe’s, from the dusky light out on 40th Street, two men and a woman. The men were the usual sort of shaggy-haired loosely dressed college men, obviously not freshmen, maybe frat boys. The woman was stunning. She was tall, statuesque, with a full bosom like Sophia Loren, nicely rounded not overlarge butt discernible under her dark brown miniskirt sashed with a braided belt, and long lovely white legs extending below that brief enticing veil over velvety dreams. She wore a large brimmed dark brown floppy hat from which cascaded long glistening waves of lush dark wavy hair that framed her smooth almond shaped face with its bright dark eyes under unplucked brushy brows, a rounded nose and full lips beneath which white teeth flashed out through her animated smiles as she spoke with her male companions. She wore a short fake fur jacket opened in front, giving a fine view of the rolling hills carpeted in a stretched maroon turtleneck blouse.

“What’ll you have, Elena?” her trailing wolves inquired.
“Oh, just a Pepsi.” Which the men ordered along with with their beers and three slices of pizza. Sergio watched that fluttering vision of feminine loveliness eating her pizza and sipping her Pepsi, obviously amused and delighted by the eagerly hopeful attentions from the two guys whose simulations of knowledgeable maturity and cool were being projected with anticipation. Sergio took slow drags on his cigarette between sips of his beer, watching from across the room.

“A Pepsi,” so Elena was a freshman. That meant she lived just down 40th Street from Smokey Joe’s, at Hill House, the very modern Women’s Dormitory, which would definitely have a reliable heating system, and also housed its own fine quality Dining Hall. Hill House was a square smooth-face red brick colored three story building centered in its own green adjacent to grassy playing fields, and surrounded by an empty moat fenced on the outside with a tall black iron fence whose sturdy vertical railings were topped with deeply hooked outward and downward facing spikes. It was a fortress, and the only way in or out was across a causeway, gated at both ends, over the moat to the barred pair of heavy doors of the guarded entryway. The outer gate was opened at 8 am and closed at 10 pm, and the entrance was always guarded to prevent any but the resident girls from entry during visiting hours without permission from one of the girls, who could appear in person to escort her guest in from the reception lobby, but usually just called over to the entry desk from her room suite, which all had telephones. The Hill House girls lived in the modern 20th century of the 1960s, the Men’s Quad boys lived in the tattered remnants of the 19th.

Sergio felt a tap on his left shoulder. It was Joe, he’d not seen him come in. “I see you are observing the circling of Ruffed Grouse about an alluring hen,” he said with his usual smile.
“And I notice you are indulging in traditional libations and aromatics. You must be cogitating on deep matters.”
“Yeah Joe, they took away my 2-S”
“Oh, that is indeed deeply disturbing. Why?” and Sergio told him the story.
“Well, then we must await the correspondence in a week or two. Did you eat?”
“Agreed. Why don’t I buy a pizza here, and we repair ourselves to my room, to nourish our bodies there, and our spirits with some grass? Tomorrow you can begin thinking of what might have to be done, tonight we can just be.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s do it.” And Sergio finished his smoke and beer while Joe ordered the pizza and they waited for it. He then noticed that Elena and her suitors had left while he had been talking with Joe. Maybe she went to their frat house to smoke some joints and play pool, he could imagine her leaning over in her miniskirt to take a long shot across the pool table, or maybe she just went back to Hill House to study, but she looked too popular for that. Anyway, now he had a mission: “Get laid before I get killed in Vietnam.”

“Bernie gave me some hash,” said Joe, dropping a green pellet into a short squat onyx pipe. “Take a hit” he said solicitously, flicking his lighter onto the hash as Sergio sucked in the burning haze hard. His mind unglued and he expanded out into viscous sensation. He and Joe traded hits from the pipe consuming the hashish till they were each far gone deep into their own vast private inky stoned nothingness. Outside Joe’s window the night was black and still.


A Tempering of Dreams, Chapter 2
10 May 2022


The Poetry of Disillusionment in “Gatsby” is Beyond the Movies


The Poetry of Disillusionment in “Gatsby” is Beyond the Movies

The Great Gatsby is a marvelous novel. F. Scott Fitzgerald was at heart a poet of the 19th Century English Romantic type, for that was the literature that clearly inspired him, as he himself said about his only academic focus during his college education (he being Princeton University’s most accomplished and famous non-graduate).

I was not too impressed with the latest (2013) glitzy movie of the novel, by Baz Luhrmann. Gatsby is so much about the poetic and lyrical use of language to convey emotionally, rather than logically (like my good science reports), the psychological states of the characters of the Gatsby tale.

A plot is always necessary of course, but in literary art it can be a mere skeleton on which to hang the real pulsing flesh of the story. Movies present plot first and foremost. The most artistically refined ones can give a sense of the poetry of experience, but this is not typical. The Baz Luhrmann movie was total Hollywood: big, flashy, loud, bombastic, hyper-realistically unreal, and impatient to blast you with a sensation.

Fitzgerald is just the opposite. Sure, there are big flashy loud extravagant background scenes in the Gatsby story, but they are really like painted backdrop curtains to the stage of the imagination on which the compelling psychologically vibrant interplays and soliloquies that fill the foreground of the tale are spun out by Fitzgerald’s prose. So I think a Hollywood movie, especially one intentionally a “blockbuster,” of the Gatsby story is just far from any art of Fitzgerald’s league, even if it has mass appeal as safe-decadent entertainment.

I suppose it could be possible for someone of the caliber of Jean Renoir to make a Gatsby movie that is much closer to the spirit of what Fitzgerald was striving for with prose, but I don’t think such a film masterpiece would have much appeal to general audiences. So, it would never be made because who in the movie business would put up the money to make a supremely artistic, psychologically subtle, and lyrical sure-fire flop?

Every movie of a novel is always a set of excerpts strung together as the filmmaker’s interpretation, or rip-off, of the novel. Can’t be helped. Douglas Sirk (the German director who made iconic 1950s American melodrama pictures with Rock Hudson) said that it was easier to make a good movie from a defective or second-rate novel, because the moviemakers (director and screen writers) could patch and fill the given story as they thought best to arrive at an integrated product that worked well as a mass-market movie. Really good novels had everything about the characters’s make-up and plot factors all tightly wrapped up “perfectly,” so there was no room to adjust the story to make for a popular movie without also degrading the quality of that story. It’s the old “the movie is not like the book.”

Some novels are too good to make equally good movies of. Catcher In The Rye is one, and its author, J. D. Salinger, refused to sell the film rights to any of his novels because he could only see movie versions degrading what he had produced for readers. The ideal prose-to-movie process (for both good prose and a good movie) would be having a superb writer craft tales specifically intended for being made into movies, where that writer was also a superb moviemaker, and who would make the film.

Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame was such a writer-moviemaker. Serling had many beautiful turns of phrase flowing out of his commentary on his Twilight Zone episodes on TV, and mixed into the dialog of the characters in his stories. But Serling’s stories only spun on for 25 minutes (half hour shows) or 50 minutes (hour shows).

Fitzgerald’s novels have much longer and interwoven thematic arcs, and were meant to be absorbed by a reader over many, many hours, probably over the course of days, weeks. Fitzgerald really wrote for pre-TV even pre-movie 19th century hopeful young American minds (like his), but who had lived through the consciousness-shattering experiences and devastating losses of WWI, and were now making their way through the chaotically fragmenting 1920s, maybe sometimes crazy happy times but with many disappointments for most, since most were not rich and would never get to be.

So, I just don’t see how any movie can capture The Great Gatsby or Fitzgerald’s incredible, incredible second masterpiece Tender Is The Night. In my daydream of being a great screenwriter and movie director, I would do the impossible and make a lush compelling epic of Tender Is The Night, something with the cinematic scope of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, and the psychological clarity and depth of Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion.

Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for Baz Luhrmann’s movie (which I did watch attentively) is the reaction of a reader (instead of a non-reading movie fan) who was enchanted by the spell of Fitzgerald’s poetic and yet amazingly economical outpouring of prose that transmits the deep feeling of the Gatsby tale. I see little subtlety and glaring falsities in, and feel much bombast from the movie. You just fall so deeply into the story as told by Fitzgerald, especially with Nick Carraway as your guide into the lower psychological depths, but you are pushed back so hard and pocked with shrapnel by Luhrmann’s movie. It’s obvious that the brassy blare is what makes the movie “successful,” but that success is the exact opposite of what Fitzgerald gave us. (Yes, the movie would have to have been made by the Jean Renoir of La Grande Illusion and La Règle de Jeu.)

The Gatsby story is about the losses of optimistic illusions about American life and about romantic ideals, and then about attempted nobility failing at life while rich crass ignorance and bigotry triumph in the way parasites triumph by degrading the totality of the lives hosting them. Tom Buchanan is Trump, and Daisy Buchanan then as now is an airhead (not a shrewd careerist Melania), a simple pretty nonentity that has no intellectual depth but is pleasant to look and talk with, and on whom the love, longings and life ambitions of a driven man can be projected as movie myth is projected onto a silver screen and appear to shimmer with magical promise. That may be the most cinematic aspect of the novel, Daisy as a metaphor of the movies, magic by optical illusion and without any substance at all, which if believed in without reservation draws naïve optimistic romanticism to its actual doom.

Well, so much for my babble about Gatsby and movie attempts at Gatsby. As Peter Byrne has told me: “Never judge a book by its movie.”