Believing In Santa


When I first told my children about Santa Claus, of course I knew there was no actual human being I was talking about. But I told my children he was real and would reward them for being good.

I didn’t care how they envisioned Santa, for there are so many variations of his image, all so innocent in spirit, lighthearted and loving. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care how they imagined he spent his time at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus, the elves and reindeer. It didn’t matter.

We all understood that Santa was real in a different way than our friends and neighbors were real. He was real in spirit, and so we could imagine all sorts of things about Santa and even read conflicting ideas about his life and accept them all without difficulty. After all, nobody really knew for sure.

The specific details of Santa’s existence were not important. It was the underlying truth, that there are larger reasons for good behavior, reasons that could last for a year or even longer. Santa was a power for goodness in the world who would bless you for your honest heart and punish those who were cruel and deceptive.

As a grownup, I replaced the idea of Santa with knowledge. I knew that honesty, no matter how unrecognized it may be among friends and family, fills your life with joy, the kind of joy that is free from shame and guilt. I also knew that those who are dishonest and mean, no matter how long their actions may go undetected, are immediately punished for their sins because of who they become. They have lost the heart of an innocent child.

Heaven and hell are here, and those who are evil live in a hell of their own making, the hell of their own existence, no matter how long they avoid punishment from others.

In this dangerous and unpredictable world there are so many good people who are so unjustly punished by life, by disease, natural disaster, political oppression or just everyday happenstance. Earth is a place where all things are possible, both good and bad. It has something to do with free will. But if we struggle against adversity with an honest heart, we will find higher ground.

So my children grew up believing in Santa, even though they did not keep him firmly in mind throughout the year. But they grew up believing that striving to be honest and good was the right way to live. And even though some of the children they knew did not believe in Santa, they did not fight with them. Some believed, some didn’t. It didn’t matter.

Most of the children who believed in Santa needed no proof. They accepted Santa as a matter of faith, buttressed by the occasional Christmas morning miracle of the missing cookies and nearly empty glass of milk. When my children began to seriously question the existence of Santa, I took them to an old stone church and we sat in a beautiful, vine-encrusted alcove and I explained that Santa was more than just one single person.

I told them Santa was the spirit of giving that lives in all of us who find joy in bringing happiness to others. I told them every department store Santa who gave joy to little children was filled with the spirit of Santa. I told them every parent who wrapped up a special gift with a card that said, “Love to you, from Santa!” was inspired by the spirit of Santa. I told them Santa was more magic than they imagined, that instead of being just one person, Santa was the spirit of kindness and love that filled the hearts of millions, especially at Christmas, and that we should keep his spirit alive every day of the year.

I told them that as we grow up, many of us replace the idea of Santa with the idea of God.

I told them the best parts of all religions were filled with this spirit, and that this is what so many people mean by the word God, that God is a force for honesty, kindness and love in the world. I told them it does not matter how we picture God or how we define God. As long as we fill our hearts with love and charity, then we are doing the work of God here on Earth.

I told them words and pictures are what we use to help us understand the spirit of Santa, the spirit of God, but the words and pictures are not what’s important. It is the meaning behind the words and pictures, the inspiration that fills each heart.

We are all imperfect, we all make mistakes and we all have times in our lives when we are so certain about things that we become blind to our errors. To fight each other over ideas about God is like trying to prove whose idea of Santa is the real idea. To fight each other over ideas of God is to be so certain that we have become blind to our own imperfection and capacity for error.

I told them some people forget that these stories are about meanings, not details. They are intended to open our hearts and help direct the course of our lives. It’s the message that's important, and what it says to each of us.

I told them to respect the religions of all cultures, that whatever ideas of God people believe in, if these ideas open their hearts and lead them toward honesty, compassion and love, then they are on the right path – all of them.

The details are not what’s important. We all speak different languages and have different ways of describing and understanding things. It’s the essence from which all explanations come that is important. That’s what faith is for, to keep the connection strong between ourselves and God because words are not enough.

We all have to start somewhere. Some of us start with Santa. The important thing is to realize that spiritual growth is like any other kind of growth – it requires change. The lessons we learn as children are for children. The lessons we learn at the beginning of our spiritual journeys are for beginnings. To grow a larger soul, we must not get stuck. We must not stop. We must keep going.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo: Christopher & Joshua Loar with Santa
© All Rights Reserved

Renegade




It was not hard to be renegade in the sleepy Los Angeles suburb of West Covina during the 1960s.


Emerging from the conservative ‘50s, all you had to be was a disagreeable teenager, especially in this Anglo-Saxonite community where most of the local power brokers attended Rotary Club pancake breakfasts with an alarming regularity. Come to think of it, regularity was also a big deal during this era.

My home town was very much like the place portrayed in the movie, “American Graffiti.” It was a teenage car culture, and after I turned 16, I had a driver’s license. Not long after, I had a car. My parents were upper middle class, so I did not have to actually earn the money to buy a car. And my mother was eager to be free of having to take me places, and then, pick me up and bring me home. Her life was busy enough, what with Women's Club luncheons to plan, bridge parties, country club appearances and the ongoing burden of supervising housekeepers and gardeners — all this along with a husband who actually expected her to make dinner on a regular basis. Yes, regularity was a pretty big deal during this era.

Nowadays there are lots of restrictions on young drivers, but when I got my license, I was free, turned loose on the streets without any restrictions or guidelines. Just a few hours of driver’s ed. But I was a pretty good driver. I’d had experience, what with all those times I took my parents’ cars out on the road when they were away for a weekend trip. Yes, I remember learning how every intersection was not necessarily a four-way stop as I propelled my mother’s lumbering, razor-finned Cadillac straight toward a passing car who, much to my surprise, had no stop sign. I hit the brake pedal just in time.

Then there was that lesson about road rage, what we used to call, “mad” or “angry.” I thought driving was a competition, and that the object was to beat the other drivers. After all, I wasn’t actually going anywhere. So I jammed down the gas pedal and managed to pull the great white whale in front of this other guy in an old, compact car who had tried his best not to let me into his lane. While I was waiting behind another car at a stop sign, he got out and walked up to my car, signaled for me to roll down my window, which I did, then punched me in the face.

By the time I had my own car, a dark green 1965 Ford Mustang — the fastback model — I was seasoned. I’d make my car too fast to catch, and I certainly would never roll down my window again for anybody.

In those days it seemed like most of my friends and rivals were working on their cars, customizing old Chevys, putting in big carburetors, high performance shifters, custom exhaust systems, giant racing slicks – even whole new engines. This was long before the state-mandated smog check. Nobody checked the condition of our cars when we renewed their registrations, so all modifications went undetected. I was not one of the more talented kid mechanics around, although I could gap a spark plug. I was a musician, a guitar player, and I did not like getting my fingers stained with grease. So I took the money I saved from teaching guitar lessons and working in a local pizza parlor and went to a speed shop in a neighboring city to let the experts juice up my horsepower. The first thing they did was rip out all the smog prevention equipment.

“You don’t need all this stuff,” I remember the mechanic saying. Years later, when I tried to trade the car in on a new model, the local Ford dealer would disagree. “You’ve got no smog equipment! We’re going to have to replace it all just to put the car on the lot.”

Oops!

Except for a little cash for dating and guitar strings, I’d put all my money into my car — a nice racket for the speed shop — and after a while I began racing my car on Saturdays at the nearby Irwindale Speedway along with all the other high school amateurs. But as a renegade teenager, the real thrill was street racing. It was like being a gunslinger in the Old West, just prowling around town, looking to challenge somebody to a shootout.

Yes, I had my share of speeding tickets, but I was never caught racing. Most of us weren’t. There were not that many police officers cruising around town in those days.

There was always the occasional race during the day, when I’d just happen to pull up next to another kid in a hot car after school. Who was faster? We just had to find out! But weekend nights were the real prime racing time. It was like jousting, trying to prove our nascent manhood to our girlfriends, or to somebody else’s girlfriend.

Sometimes the races were organized.

Some guy with greasy hair had a new Camaro 280z and swore he could take me. Bets were made and the next Saturday night my friends blocked off both ends of a sleepy suburban street about a half-mile long while we lined up our cars. About twenty high school kids gathered at the finish line. Camaro boy couldn’t catch me, even though his car may have been faster. I was always incredibly quick off the starting line.

That’s what won me the race set up by the speed shop at Irwindale Raceway. There was another kid, a rich kid whose father owned stores, who was already out of high school, who came to the speed shop with a Mustang pretty much like mine. The speed shop mechanics figured this guy would be good competition for me. After they’d done their best to expand his horsepower, we set a date.

The early part of the afternoons at Irwindale were spent doing practice runs, called “qualifying.” You had to turn a good enough time in your particular class to compete in the early evening, before the actual professionals did their stuff for the audience who sat in bleachers on either side of the quarter-mile track.

Steve – my well-financed opponent – and I both qualified at the top of our class and were set to compete. I had the advantage of nearly a year of experience, while this was Steve’s first time at a professional raceway. He was a little nervous, especially since we had an audience of friends, girlfriends and the speed shop mechanics. It had just turned dark as we pulled up to the starting line, facing the “Christmas Tree,” a series of lights mounted on each side of a central bracket that indicate when the cars are in the right starting position. Then, once the cars are positioned, the yellow lights count down to green. If a driver started too early, a red light would signal disqualification.

We both edged our cars into starting position, our engines almost window-shatteringly loud because we’d opened up our “headers” (high performance exhaust systems) to bypass the mufflers. From experience, I knew the slight lag time of my car – from the time I hit the gas pedal to the car’s forward surge – allowed me to start a half second before the green light flashed.

We waited, then the first yellow light flashed on, moving down toward the green light. The moment Steve’s brain told him the light was green, I’d already jumped out from the starting line. He was momentarily stunned, and even though he turned a faster time, he never caught me. It wasn’t really about how fast you went, it was about who got there first. Mind over horsepower. I made it to the finish line first, won the trophy and renewed admiration from my girlfriend.

Yes, it was a moment.

Of course now as a responsible adult I am appalled at my behavior, risking accident and injury on the streets of my sleepy suburban town. Perhaps that’s why it made so much sense for all of us to go just outside of town to the Chicken Ranch.

There was a long, straight road inside the Chicken Ranch property, made for trucks to pick up eggs and chickens, I suppose. Nobody stayed with the chickens at night, especially not on Saturday nights. This particular night had not been the first time high school hot rods had raced there, but it was my first time.

There were dozens of competitors from area high schools and junior colleges, and dozens more who just came to watch. It is a solemn testament to the short-range saturation of the teenage brain that none of us had entertained a single thought about potential consequences. Rubber burned and smoked and engines spit and roared as pair after pair of racers hurtled down the improvised racetrack. After I made my run, the growing chaos of beer-swilling youth amazingly enough triggered some fledgling sense of adult apprehension in me, and so I left. As I exited the entrance to the Chicken Ranch, I was passed by a long line of police cars.

That was the last race ever held at the Chicken Ranch. It was my senior year, and before long, I’d own a more practical car, have a more practical girlfriend, and grow a little less renegade as the wild anarchy of my teenage years passed. After all, I had to prepare for the wild anarchy of my twenties.



























~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

The Princess Marjorie



M y mother saved things.

She had $50 bills hidden in an envelope beneath a stack of unread magazines in the cupboard of an old nightstand.

She had a small box of Kennedy half-dollars inside a small safe, underneath stacks of envelopes bound together with rubber bands. There were $50 bills inside some of the envelopes.

There were lacquered jewelry boxes and plain cardboard boxes filled with necklaces, rings, pendants and pins in dresser drawers beneath undergarments, old mail, pill bottles, pens and a lifetime of assembled ephemera. There were some valuable heirlooms mixed without distinction among trinkets from the many countries she had visited with her late husband. Photos taken by her husband were collected in box after box of incredibly boring slides which were viewed once or twice when friends came over, then stuffed into cupboards and never seen again. Marjorie and her husband did not seem to enjoy their travels as much as they enjoyed accumulating them to be admired and envied by their friends.

My mother was 15 years old in 1929, when the stock market crashed, followed by years of economic turmoil. But her parents were wealthy and the family was protected from ruin. She was a spoiled, only child who was smart and talented. She was a top student, played the piano and the violin, and pretty enough to be pursued by legions of young men, her friendship desired by admiring young women. She was a small-town princess whose photo routinely appeared in the society pages of the local paper.

So many in her small town had fallen into poverty during the aftermath of the Great Depression. So she saved. Everything.

By the time I was a teenager, her garage had turned into a museum of the useless and obsolete. She had saved all my father’s old electric shavers, though they didn’t work very well anymore. But they had value, somehow.

She saved cookie tins, so handy for storing things, even though she had more than twenty empty tins stuffed into a cupboard beneath her dead husband’s cluttered workbench. You never know when you might need one, she thought, and if she threw them away, in just a very few days she’d suddenly have a use for them, and then it would be too late.

After her electric garage door opener had to be replaced, she would not let the repairman take away the old, greasy, rusty, 12-foot-long mechanism. There might be parts in it that would come in handy some day.

The garage was packed full of stuff like that: old corroded sprinkler heads, scrap lumber stored in the rafters, old magazines, cardboard boxes that had come with her televisions, her coffee maker, her microwave. There were cracked plastic buckets filled with tattered kitchen dish towels and rags. Boxes of old calendars, coffee cans full of nails and screws and other mysterious, hard-to-identify parts saved by her late husband.

Inside her house every drawer was packed full. Many contained unopened mail, solicitations she meant to review, stacks of envelopes bound with rubber bands. She kept every greeting card she’d ever received, every letter, all the way back to when she was a little girl.

One might guess she was a sentimental person. But sentiment was barely in evidence as she accumulated her way through life. Sentiment was, at best, a fleeting afterthought, a momentary pause in the pursuit of acquisition. She never looked at the things she saved. Much of it was packed away in places too difficult to easily access. Each card and letter she saved was a kind of honorary award, bearing testament to her worth. They were her small trophies; homage paid to the princess.

I could go on and on, describing in great detail all the unused kitchen appliances, the unread books, the cabinets full of figurines, crystal, ceramics and silver – so many things only the privileged could afford to own, things that were never taken out of their places and handled, looked at or enjoyed.

But even in this small accounting, my writing becomes a repetition of the compulsions that surrounded me as a child, the compulsions that infused my soul, against which I have fought every day of my adult life.

Inside my mother’s garage, inside her drawers, in her closets and cupboards, in her attic, in every empty space, a lifetime of accumulation gathered randomly, while on the outside, her splendid home was neatly decorated, her most expensive possessions on display, touched only by the housekeeper who kept them dust-free.

My mother married a successful salesman, too young and sheltered to realize she’d fallen in love with a sales pitch, not a man. They were far from soul mates. She was Lady Di. He was Homer Simpson. She kept her husband at arm’s length as the years passed by, in his appropriate place, untouched, on his side of the bed. After a few years, she accumulated two children. First my sister, then I were adopted – an appropriate pair to show off at the country club.

As time went by, her husband and her children proved to be quite troublesome. Instead of showering her with praise, devotion and servitude, we actually required love and affection. Since she could not put each of us in a display case, she entombed herself within a display case of her own making. She became untouchable, permanent, unchanging, unwilling to share her carefully constructed and accumulated life. Yet we were relentlessly human and asked for more than she could give, and grew to resent her.

She came to realize she’d made a mistake. Life had been perfect when she was the only child, the small-town princess, admired by all she knew. She could never become the supplicant, required to make an earnest entreaty for love. She was superior and would never admit any kind of emotional need. And so she accumulated things and pre-empted any emotional connection by treating those around her with cruel contempt.

She was known in the community as a rich and respected woman who lived in a grand house full of splendid possessions. But she was utterly impoverished in spirit, without those intangible things which are our true possessions, which are the true measure of our lives.

This was my mother, the Princess Marjorie, sovereign of a vast wilderness.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Five




Ralph Humphrey

While not a familiar name among the general public, drummer Ralph Humphrey is famous among musicians. He’s known for playing with a long list of musical luminaries and just about every kind of gig and recording session imaginable. But when I played a few casuals with Ralph in 1975 and 1976, for me, his crowning glory was that he’d played with Frank Zappa, most notably as the only drummer on the 1973 Zappa album “Over-nite Sensation.”



Ralph’s playing on “Over-nite Sensation” introduced a different kind of rhythmic sophistication to Zappa’s rock and jazz hybrid tunes, creating a sound of raw power precisely executed. Every musician I knew was listening to that breakthrough album.

The first gig I played with Ralph was at The Bistro in Beverly Hills, famous for its celebrity patrons. We played for a City Of Hope dinner for luminaries honored by the medical center’s foundation. I quickly realized I was in rarified air when I saw the parking lot. It was wall-to-wall Rolls Royce automobiles.



On our first break, I peppered Ralph with questions about Zappa. I especially wanted to know if Zappa was sincere when he so often publicly stated he did not use drugs. His appearance and his wild musical mind, not to mention his bizarre lyrics, often gave people the impression that he must be high on something. But Ralph confirmed that Zappa did not use drugs. He was, in fact, an anti-drug advocate, although he did smoke cigarettes.

“I think if Frank ever really got high and took a good look at himself it would really freak him out,” Ralph said.

{The above quote is approximate, from my imperfect memory.}

I was a competent guitar player, but far from the A-list level that Humphrey belonged to. I asked Ralph how he rose to such a high level of musical proficiency. If there was some secret bit of wisdom, some path to greatness I’d overlooked, he would know about it. But Ralph said his musicianship was simply a result of a lot of study, practice and dedication. I suppose he was too modest to mention talent.

That evening led to another encounter with a famous celebrity--Johnny Carson. Someone said the lounge at The Bistro was a favorite spot for Johnny and Jack Lemmon who would meet there on occasion. A few hours after our gig began, we heard that Johnny was in the bar.

To get to the restroom, bar patrons had to cut across a corner of the banquet room where we were playing. In the middle of a tune, we spotted Johnny making his way to the restroom. Without dropping a beat, the piano player broke into the theme song from “The Tonight Show.” Johnny looked over, pointed at us and laughed, quickly disappearing from the room.

~ to be continued



~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Ralph Humphrey bio
© All Rights Reserved





Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Four


Gary Owens


Radio and television personality Gary Owens was indeed famous, mostly for his funny announcer role on the popular sixties television show, “Laugh In.” But I first encountered his zany and witty humor when he was a disc jockey on KFWB in Los Angeles.

In the summer of 1961 when I was 11 years old, I won a contest two days in a row by being the first caller to his show and having the correct answer. I can’t remember what the question or the contest was about, but I do remember winning a Gary Owens coloring book and KFWB bumper sticker. The real prize was talking briefly with my idol. He congratulated me for winning two days in a row. Here was a man who made his living playing records and being funny. That’s what I wanted to do.

Many years later while working as a reporter at the Daily Pilot newspaper in Newport Beach, I wrote and announced afternoon news reports live from the newsroom, broadcast on a local FM radio station. At last, I was following in the footsteps of Gary Owens. I tried to make the news briefs funny, but alas, I was no Gary Owens and wisely stuck with print journalism.




O.C. Smith


When I was a young guitar player and singer, on the road in April 1973 with a group called Changes, I met singer O.C. Smith, famous for his Grammy-winning recording of “Little Green Apples” four years earlier. We were playing six nights a week at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, Alaska.

On a concert tour of Alaska, O.C. Smith and his band arrived in Juneau to play two weekends at the hotel. On those weekends, we played alternate sets. There wasn’t much to do during the daytime, and I spent time with his sidemen, all gifted jazz musicians, trying to learn whatever secrets they possessed. They quietly complained that Smith only used them for his rigorous road gigs. They had not played on any of his records. That taught me something about the limits of talent in the subjective world of show business.

O.C. Smith was a personable, charismatic man who was very popular with the audiences, whether he was singing or just talking. On one weekend night when all the black people in Alaska must have traveled to Juneau to hear him sing, he told the audience a joke about how black people love Cadillacs. “We get ‘em first,” he said. “We don’t keep ‘em long, but we get ‘em first!”

Despite his fame and many years of performing, including being a vocalist for the legendary Count Basie, he still got nervous before going on. I saw him grasping a young lady’s hand to steady his nerves as his band played the intro music just before he came on. But once he was on stage, he had the infectious confidence of the seasoned professional.

I’m not surprised that O.C. Smith, a singer with a warm, baritone voice and electric personality, became a preacher years later. He founded the City of Angels Church of Religious Science in 1985.

~ to be continued


~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met — Part Three



I’d never met a professional athlete before I met Los Angeles Dodgers rookie pitcher Stan Wall, a recent regular at the hotel lounge where I sang and played guitar with a small combo near the Los Angeles airport.

I’d also never met a Playboy model, but to meet Stan was to meet the amazing young woman who was often at his side, sitting around the semi-circular bar that fronted the elevated stage on which I performed.


It was 1975, his first year in the majors, called up from a seven-year stint in the Dodgers' minor league system to take his shot. Stan was in the big leagues at last and was having a lot of fun on and off the field.

He was 24, I was 25 and we were both intrigued by each other’s professions.

We struck up a friendship, which led to:

THE COMPETITION!


There was a freestanding video game in the lobby of the International Hotel which I often played with the bass player on breaks between sets.

So I was experienced.

One night after the band finished the last set, a rare night when Stan was alone, we ended up playing the video game together. These were the early days of video game technology. I cannot remember what the game was, only that it gave one the choice of playing against the computer or against another player. It was graphically crude, like the earliest Atari video games. Stan was ferociously competitive and doing pretty well for never having played this particular game. But my experience gave me an edge, and I began to dominate the competition.

“I can’t believe you’re this good!” he said in exasperation, shortly before I defeated him. It was about 3 a.m. and we were both exhausted.

We parted as friends, but it was a bittersweet experience. I felt a degree of pride for having beaten an accomplished athlete, and a little guilty for having shattered his confidence in a competition that was not evenly matched, given my many hours already spent mastering the intricacies of the game.

Days later I was watching the Dodgers on television, knowing there was a chance that Stan would be called in for relief pitching. I can’t remember what team they were playing against, but I do remember that Stan took the mound during the last few innings of the game with the bases loaded. I still shudder when I think of that pitch, the solid crack of the bat hitting the ball, that grand slam home run. I also remember Vin Scully commenting to co-announcer Jerry Doggett about how great the distance was between the minors and the majors, illustrated by Stan’s disastrous outing.

I blamed Dodger manager Walter Alston who put the young man into an incredibly difficult situation, difficult even for the most seasoned relief pitcher. But I could not help but wonder if my video game victory over Stan had somehow shaken his confidence. The night life we shared certainly didn’t help either. I felt a wave of guilt. Had I, in some small way, contributed toward his difficulties on the mound that day?

Yet Stan continued to play for the Dodgers, pitching ten games that year with a blistering 1.69 earned run average. He pitched a total sixty-six games with 55 strikeouts during his two years with the Dodgers before injury and happenstance sent him back to the minors in 1977. That was pretty much the end of his baseball career, but he went farther in those two years than I did during a dozen years as a working musician.

Unlike Stan, I never made it to the big leagues.


~ to be continued


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met — Part Two



I ’ve met a fair number of famous and accomplished people, which is remarkable considering how shy and introverted I was as a child, a condition born of abandonment, exacerbated by abuse, and finally mitigated by a career as a newspaper reporter.

I was put up for adoption by my single mother at the fragile age of 13 months, and subsequently adopted by people who stubbornly defied the verdict of biology – that they were not intended to have children.

My first encounter with a famous person came at age ten. I was a blustery student of the trumpet, taking lessons from Mr. Collins, owner of the Covina Music Store. I think his first name was Jack, but I only knew him as Mr. Collins. Playing the melancholy “Du, Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen,” I used to hit notes by accident that took years for Miles Davis to perfect.
Mr. Collins just happened to know virtuoso trumpeter Rafael Méndez, who was coming to our little city to perform with the local college orchestra. To quote Wikipedia:
Rafael Méndez was legendary for his tone, range, technique and unparalleled double tonguing. Méndez's playing was characterized by a brilliant tone, wide vibrato and clean, rapid articulation. His repertoire was a mixture of classical, popular, Mexican folk music and jazz. Méndez contributed many arrangements and original compositions to the trumpet repertoire. His Scherzo in D Minor is often heard in recitals. He was considered to many people the best trumpet/cornet player in the world.



Rafe, as Mr. Collins called him, was a kind man, treating me as if I were a young prodigy, which Mr. Collins generously hinted I might be. Fortunately, Rafe could not stay long enough to actually listen to me play. Otherwise, he might have wanted his autograph back.


~ to be continued




~ By Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

My Light




M y earliest memory is of a large white house, something like a Southern plantation house fronted by Greek columns, blindingly white, glimpsed through the windshield of the car my mother was driving. I was about one year old. She left me there, inside this large, white house. I never saw her again.

It was a place for orphaned children. After my mother realized my father would not leave his own wife and children as he had promised, the pressure to put me up for adoption was evidently too great to resist. It was 1951 in Southern California and my mother was from a proud military family. She loved me, I was later told, but the situation was unacceptable, especially to her parents. She loved me, but everyone agreed that “a boy should have a father.” It was a solution. It did not make everything all right. Nothing could do that. After all, we’d been together every day during my first sixteen months of life. She was my mother.

My insecurity was born that day. If I could lose my mother, my home and everything I’d ever known in such an instant, then what was left? Who could I trust?

I grew up seeing the world as a threat, expecting to be rejected by everyone, expecting to lose everything. I expected abandonment. My fears were fueled by the cruel and abusive parents who adopted me. This is my darkness.

I also grew up seeking the truth about my first year and a half of life, hidden from me for so long. In the process I learned there is much about our lives that is hidden by pretense and artifice – hidden by others; hidden by ourselves. And in this search, in finding the truth, in finding myself, I have found a healing love far stronger than the darkness of my troubled soul. This is my light.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met ~ Part One


This world is full of famous people and those who have met them. As a newspaper reporter, it’s not unusual that I should have rubbed elbows with a few famous and infamous folks. What is unusual is that it happened to me at all, considering my ragged beginnings as an orphaned child, born out of wedlock, placed in a foster home and eventually adopted by soul-crushing parents.


I grew up being constantly punished, made to believe that I deserved constant punishment, told repeatedly how inadequate I was as a human being. It’s not surprising that I grew up expecting rejection from the world at large, considering what a failure I was in my parents' eyes.


I entered the tumult of adolescence with a serious inferiority complex, taking refuge in music, in playing the guitar. I was lucky enough to have steady gigs as the years went by, content to be in the background. And in my early twenties, smoking marijuana provided another refuge.


It was only when my wife became pregnant with our first son did the inner adult begin to emerge. I had been hiding from the world, extending my adolescence, just talented enough to have gigs but not talented enough to have an actual career in music. Imagining what kind of father I would make in my current condition, I belatedly realized it was time to grow up. I returned to college, earned a journalism degree and began a new career for which I was not only trained extensively, but one in which I could actually excel.


Reporter Russ Loar meets presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992.

   Thus began the journey from a frightened little boy who would hide under the bed whenever the doorbell rang, to an intrepid newspaper reporter who would one day meet the man who would become one of the most popular presidents of the most powerful country on earth–Bill Clinton.

   Meeting famous people is a routine fact of everyday life for many journalists, especially those on television who have their own star power. But I was a 36-year-old college graduate with only an internship and a year at a public relations firm writing newsletters when I got my first newspaper reporting job at a small weekly paper. It was not only the journey from being a dope-smoking, introverted guitar player that was remarkable, but also a combination of luck and the ambition to seize opportunity that led to my memorable encounters. Here I was, the boy who was brought up to believe he was among the least capable human beings on the planet, interviewing some of the most brilliant and accomplished people on the planet, writing stories about them for thousands of readers.

   For those reading these essays about my life who are not members of my family, I don’t expect you to be that interested. This world is full of famous people, and of course it’s far more interesting to be a famous person than to be a person who has met a famous person. But I am writing these essays for my family—my sons, my daughters, and perhaps someday grandchildren and their progeny. I have had an improbable, lucky life, and even at my advanced age of 65, I continue to have ambitions. I am writing these essays so that my succeeding generations will know where they came from, for I am the beginning of what I hope will be a long line of family. I was born out of wedlock by a father who already had a family and a mother who gave me away, perhaps out of concern for my well-being, perhaps not. They are the accidents from which I was created.

   I am the beginning of this family tree, married to my dear wife Cheryl for decades now, a loving mother who is highly literate and intelligent with a sophisticated appreciation for the aesthetics of this life. So to all those who follow, whether by way of family or in spirit, I write these essays for you. I write them to let you know who I am, or perhaps by the time you read this, who I was.



~ to be continued


~ by Russ Allison Loar

© All Rights Reserved

My Heaven














M y grandparents were best friends.

They’d known each other since kindergarten, grew up together in rural Texas in the late 1800s, moved to Southern California and were married in 1908. They were the kindest people I’ve ever known.

During the summer I often slept overnight in the top floor of their enchanted two-story Spanish-style house. My bedroom had a balcony overlooking a rock-lined goldfish pond in the front patio. A small trickle of water poured continuously from a ceramic pitcher cemented among ragged rocks above the pond, dribbling into the murky green water where fat goldfish drifted lazily beneath a few lily pads.

I was in a storybook house surrounded by a magical forest – my grandparents’ orange grove. The house was full of old furniture and books, lamps and paperweights, oil paintings and figurines, dishes and silver. The furniture was thick, dark wood and the paintings were hillsides, streams and forests – places without people. There was a book of maps with Persia and Siam.

Everything in the house spoke to me of ancestors, an unbroken line of family where no one ever threw anything worthwhile away. If it was worth owning, it was worth taking care of and passing on to the next generation.

In my bedroom was an old lamp on the night table, left on while I fell asleep. The lamp’s tubular base was decorated with a painting of an angel bearing a small-winged boy away to heaven. It was originally a gas lamp purchased in about 1860 by my grandmother’s sister, converted to electricity in the 1920s when a glass bowl and lampshade were added. As I drifted off to sleep I watched the angel and imagined she was taking me to heaven.

Sometimes I was startled awake by a nightmare, but quickly soothed by the stillness and security of my grandparents’ home, by the sense of their protection embracing me.

The only sound was the tic and toc of the Regulator clock at the top of the stairs just outside my room. The clock had belonged to my grandmother’s father. It was the heartbeat of their home, of their constancy.

Most summer mornings I was awakened by the sound of rowdy crows perched near the top of ancient sycamore trees in view of the balcony. I loved being high up in the air, stepping out onto the balcony in my pajamas, looking at the large green world and endless blue sky, smelling the warming air filled with the sharp scent of citrus, brushed with the fragrance of rose and camellia, filtered through my grandmother’s orchard, lifted on the wings of butterflies and blown into my room.

I especially loved the plaintive cries of Mourning Doves, a sound I imagined I would hear when I woke up some morning in heaven. But then, I was already there.



~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

A Message




I remember the day when my mother left me at the Children’s Home Society and never came back.

(◄ Click to enlarge.)


That’s why I always knew I was adopted. And as the years passed I often wondered about my birth parents – who they were; where they were; if they were still alive.

Several years after my first son Joshua was born, when I was 30 years old, I felt suddenly overwhelmed one day by the desire to find out as much as I could about my birth parents. I immediately sat down and wrote a letter to the Children’s Home Society. It was Friday, October 24, 1980. My emotions were flooded. I was seized by the need to take some kind of action, to begin the search.

After about two months, someone wrote me back, giving me as much information as California’s restrictive adoption laws would allow. It was not much, but it was something. It was important. My father had an extramarital affair with my mother, who had kept me for a little more than a year hoping he would leave his wife and children and marry her. When it became apparent this would not happen, my mother put me up for adoption. About six months later, I was adopted.

I searched for years trying to find out additional information without much success, until 2006. I’d posted my information on an adoption site online and a professional searcher quickly found out all my birth information and put me in touch with my two half-sisters, my birth father’s daughters.

My wonderful new sisters told me many things about my birth father, including where he was buried. He’d passed away twenty-six years earlier. When I called the cemetery to ask about the location of his grave, I also asked for the date of his death, something I’d forgotten to ask my sisters. I jotted down the date on my notes.

Every bit of information was gold to me, so long sought after, so long in coming. As I assembled and transcribed the vital statistics of my father’s life, I had all my records and paperwork spread out on my desk. I typed in the date of my father’s death. Then my attention was drawn to the letter from the Children’s Home Society, the response to my first letter of inquiry. The first paragraph reads:


Due to pressures at the CHS office, it is taking from two to three months to respond to inquiries such as yours dated 10-24-80.

My father had died on that same day, Friday, October 24, 1980, the day I was so overwhelmed by a surge of emotion, prompting me to finally began the search for his identity by writing to the Children’s Home Society.

I have never heard a discarnate voice from beyond the grave. I have never seen a ghost. But clearly, on the day my father died, some kind of message was sent. Some kind of message was received.











~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Flying



I can’t remember the first time I dreamed of flying.
But oh how natural it seemed, like becoming my true self once again, unrestricted by gravity. No more up and down, just here and there. Each altitude a sovereign space.


I was flying,
Swift and sure
With the lift of a hand,
A miracle on demand.

But more than the addictive bliss
Of flight,
Or the intoxication
Of height,
I was most proud
Of my position above the crowd,
Most proud
And most alone.
I was the only one.

Out of loneliness I descended,
And flew closely by,
Urging all to try.

But not one would leave the ground,
So sadly I ascended
And flew once more above them,
Unnoticed,
Without sound.

I flew over yellow gold meadows, lifetimes of oceans and mountains, lakes and forests, sometimes above the clouds and sometimes skimming the surface of the water.

Then I started flying closer to the ground in some of my dreams, more like hovering. I’d be walking down a city sidewalk and then lift slightly off the ground and slide along like a sailboat in a strong wind gliding over the water, angling my body in order to change speed and turn, like a freefall, only sideways.

In some dreams I felt possessed by the need to demonstrate this remarkable ability to others. I would be in a crowded room and lift myself up off the ground about three feet or so. It felt like something akin to proving that God is real and manifest in our everyday lives, proving that miracles are within our power. "Behold!" I would declare.

But in these dreams no one thinks my flying is remarkable. They are always busily engrossed in day-to-day activities and seem not to notice -- not to care.

When I awaken it takes me a while to realize I can’t fly. When I was younger I’d actually try to reach that certain mechanism in the back of my brain that could lift me off the ground, but alas, it never worked. I could not defeat gravity. Perhaps there are other ways.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Scene #19 by Cristian René
© All Rights Reserved

Collections


The first things I collected were stuffed animals, but only two of them slept with me at night. Of all my friends and playmates, I dearly loved the little gray cat and floppy brown and tan spotted dog who slept under the covers and kept me from feeling lonely at bedtime.
I’ve never lived anywhere very long without cats. I sleep with a little calico cat named Sally now.

I collected small metal cars and loved to drive them around cities I made from colored blocks.

When I was 17 years old I raced my mustang at Irwindale Raceway and won a few trophies.

I collected 45 rpm records, songs I heard on the radio. I listened to them over and over again. Each week when I went to the music store for my trumpet lesson, I bought a new “single” to add to my collection. I pretended I was a disc jockey and would announce each record I played.

One summer I won a contest on radio station KFWB by being the first caller. I talked to disc jockey Gary Owens and he sent me a Gary Owens coloring book and KFWB bumper sticker.

When I was 42 years old and working as a reporter for a daily newspaper in Newport Beach, California, I did daily newscasts for a local FM radio station. Someone once told me they heard me in a supermarket where the station was playing.

I collected coins and stamps, ordering them from catalogues and putting them into albums. I looked through everyone’s pennies, trying to find a 1909-S VDB, the rarest of Lincoln pennies. It never turned up. I learned that the reason certain coins and stamps were worth so much money was the same reason I’d never find them.

I began investing seriously in my late 40s, having more luck in recognizing an undervalued stock than knowing when to sell it. I learned that for many investments, value and worth are temporary.

As I grew up, my collections shifted from things to experiences. I collected friends, lovers and accomplishments. I collected books I’d read. I collected knowledge and learning. I collected songs and poems I wrote. I collected performances I played as a musician. I collected the talented musicians I played with. After I became a newspaper reporter, I collected my best published stories. I collected every famous and interesting person I met.

I collected family photographs, all the way back to great grandparents, arranging them in albums. I collected my family, my parents and grandparents, the years of my marriage, the companionship of my sons. I'm waiting to collect a grandchild or two.

I collect memories and as I grow old they reveal meanings to me I’d never fully understood. I collect the acts of kindness I’ve received and try to pass them on to others. I collect wisdom and continue to learn and relearn the lessons I’ve been taught from those still living and those who have passed on, their words still speaking to me.

I collect knowledge of the joy and sadness in this world, the tragedies and victories of the spirit, the damnations and the revelations. Sometimes it’s all too much and so I pack some of my collections away in boxes and label them, knowing I can always go back and unpack, knowing I’ll never look inside some of these boxes again, knowing all things change and life should move forward, mindfully forward.

My house is full of things useful and decorous, impractical and silly, remnants of a long life. I look at these things and they remind me of who I have been, who I still am. I suppose I will never completely discard my past, as long as it has something to teach me. I suppose all that I’ve collected has been an attempt to preserve happiness, wisdom and love.

Someday I will leave all these collections behind, passing these objects and their meanings on to others, but keeping the joy of having lived on this Earth in my eternal heart.





~ Text and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

What I Learned In School ~ Part Two





Originally published May 15, 1986, in the Irvine World News.



Teaching must be a calling. I suppose many enter the profession with the idealistic desire to calm the little savage beasts, to salvage a few more candidates for an enlightened democracy, to do something that matters, something that counts.


Mrs. Voss was that kind of teacher.

She was an unusual lady. Every morning she stuffed her magnanimous frame into a dented, off-white golf cart and drove to the little stucco school where she taught fourth grade. She taught us object lessons.

It was cold as we sat at our twenty wooden lift-top desks, faced with the choice of a large black blackboard in front, and a wall of windows on the left, through which I watched the enviable freedom of little birds and wandering leaves. I was a malcontent.

As the blackboard steadily filled with sentences split into undecipherable parts, I filled and embellished my paper with a drawing of Mrs. Voss. It was a symbolic drawing. And, seeing as how my drawing skills were poor and her body shape was prone to satire, the drawing came out a bit unflattering, to say the least.

As the morning wore on, Mrs. Voss eventually noticed my unusual dedication to paperwork, and walked directly to my desk, perhaps to kindle this new spark of concentrated study. Seeing the drawing, she silently held out her hand. Not knowing nearly enough about the First Amendment to refuse, I gave it to her. "Russ, please see me after class," she said softly.

It was like a living death, waiting for the end of class. The picture was bad enough, but I had added some remarks I thought some of my more unrefined classmates would think clever.

Mrs. Voss showed no anger and continued her sentences and their diagrams as if nothing at all had happened. I was in hell. She worked that way. After my classmates bolted out the door, on their way to the freedom of recess and the challenge of foursquare, I stood before her large and bruised wooden desk in front of the blackboard.

She still had no look of anger, she actually gave me a sweet smile as she began to speak. Sinning would have been so much easier against a tyrant, but against a saint—I stood squashed by my tiny shame.

“Please read what you have written on your drawing," she said.

The shame of that moment has erased my memory of the captions I wrote, but I remember the ugly sound of their heartless intentions, how odd and foreign they sounded on my lips.

"Now you know what it means to eat your words," she said, smiling, letting me go.

Yes, now I know. She taught me. I learned.

And today, I cannot see a man push in front of a woman to get through a doorway, without hearing Mrs. Voss' intoned command, "Women and children first!"

It was not just an empty phrase, to be learned by rote. It was, she told us with dramatic calm, what the noble gentlemen aboard the Titanic said as that hallmark of gracious cruising edged lower into the sea.

"Women and children first," the heroic gentlemen said, knowing that when all else is lost, kindness is still possible, and necessary.

"Women and children first," Mrs. Voss said as we practiced filing in and out of the door.

I was one of her least rewarding students I suppose, and yet, somehow the best of what she was able to give found a place within me, lying in wait.

I suppose good teaching is like that. It finds its mark, long before the student is ready to use it, to fully understand it. Then, years later, the words, the voices, the lessons of old teachers are called into being by life's events, lessons saved like extra fuses to be plugged in someday when the lights go out.

So kind teachers of all ages who despair of their wayward students as I once was, do not dismay. Your best lessons are not lost, just waiting, percolating—they live!




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

What I Learned In School ~ Part One

















I  went to first grade in a little red schoolhouse, which was actually called The Little Red Schoolhouse. It was small. It was red. It was a school. What else are you gonna call it?

It was a private school. The public schools just wouldn’t do for my mother, who always demanded a certain level of exclusivity about things.

I was indeed an excluded kid. I did not play with the neighborhood children—definitely public school types—for I lived in a moderately wealthy home, next door to my grandparents’ even wealthier, immoderate home, surrounded by their acres of orange trees.

The neighborhood rat pack lived in more moderate homes on a modest street bordering the orange grove. Every day they saw each other come and go. If one kid came outside to play basketball on his driveway, all the other kids knew he was there. The ice cream truck drove down the street once a day during summer and the driver knew most of the kids by name. He had no idea who I was.

I had my own private orange tree forest to play in and large gardens to wander through, long driveways to ride my bicycle on. Even my older sister was not interested in playing with me. She was, after all, a girl and wanted to do girl stuff, but she also knew I was a misfit, not easy to be with.

When I began first grade, the other children were like wild animals to me. I viewed them with curiosity and trepidation. My unfamiliarity with the rules of first grade decorum branded me as outcast. I had no idea how to make friends.

One day at recess, I lifted up a little girl’s dress. I can’t remember why. I was probably just teasing her, the only way I knew how to interact with other kids. O yes, loneliness makes the best comedians. The little girl told a teacher who took me to an empty classroom for a little conversation about girls.

After trying to make me understand I had done something wrong, the teacher gave me an example:

When people watch ice skaters on television and the girls’ skirts fly up in the air, people don’t look at the girls’ underwear because they know it’s not nice.

Lesson learned.

Yet before too many years passed by, I would be looking at girls in magazines who wore no underwear at all. These were magazines my friends got from older brothers or sometimes found tucked away in the bottom of their fathers’ dresser drawers.

Less than ten years after I graduated from first grade I would be having eye-bulging sex with my busty blonde-haired girlfriend on the backseat of my hot rod. It was actually her idea.

So much for ice skaters.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

My Revelation



For me, this existence, "This," is eternity.

The kingdom of heaven, and hell, and everything else in-between is at hand. Right here. Right now.

Whatever is past and whatever may come, this moment is all about how far along I am as an eternal soul, an eternal being, an eternal something or another, names and labels being limited as they are.

This is my revelation.

So many of us believe heaven is somewhere else, a reward for a life well-spent, our ethereal home where there will be no more strife and struggle.

But what if we died and awoke in heaven and it was a place just like Earth, where we inhabited physical bodies and had to put our spirituality to the test in a physical world of human interaction and social evolution? We might very well doubt we had entered the kingdom of God.

For me, entering the kingdom of God is about awakening, seeing what has always been here. And for me, hell is also here. Wherever there is the possibility of heaven, there is the possibility of hell. It has something to do with free will.

This is my revelation.

I do not know where I will be after my body dies. Perhaps “I” and “where” will no longer apply. Nevertheless, today, I am in heaven. I cannot imagine a more heavenly miracle than the persistence of life, hope and love on this planet, here among the uninhabitable planets of our solar system. I cannot imagine a more heavenly miracle than the birth of a child.

Here in heaven, you put a small seed into the ground and it comes back flowers.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by Maxine (aka Maxxximpact)
© All Rights Reserved