A Lie



I was playing with a baseball I’d found in my front yard when two older boys walked up to me.

One of them said, “That’s my baseball. I hit it over here all the way from the park.”

The park was about three miles away, but I was seven years old and I believed him. I gave him the baseball. The two boys walked away down the sidewalk laughing.

Lying in bed that night, thinking over the events of the day, I realized those boys were laughing because they had told me a lie and I believed them. They were laughing at me.

I decided I wouldn't be so stupid next time. Despite my decision, more than 50 years later I’m still surprised how skillfully people can lie and how easily I can be deceived.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Punishment





I  must be a bad person.

That’s what I thought, because I was punished so often. My mother was uncontrollably angry with me, but it was anger without explanation. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong or why I was being hit.

I lived under a cloud of near constant disapproval, always in trouble.

One day when I was very young, my mother was furiously hitting me when my grandmother who lived next door came unexpectedly into our house. I can still hear her loud, clear voice: “Do not strike that child!”

That was the day I learned I did not deserve to be hit. That was the day I learned it was my mother who was doing something bad.

It is interesting that some childhood memories remain so vivid. For me, it is the acts of cruelty and kindness that stand out.

I remember my grandfather holding me in a rocking chair as I fell asleep, singing:

“Home On The Range.”

I remember my grandmother buying me a toy rifle at a department store, even though it was neither Christmas nor my birthday.

I remember seeing my mother’s face in the bathroom mirror above mine as she shook me violently while I was trying to brush my teeth. I was beginning to understand my mother’s inner demons had nothing to do with me.

I remember when my enraged father was hitting me one night, hearing my mother scream: “Not in the face!” That taught me something about guilt.

I remember the last time my father spanked me. I was getting older, and as he started hitting me I decided I would not cry, no matter how hard he hit me. He finally gave up trying to make me cry. I’d been silent the entire time. He never spanked me again.

As I grew older, my mother found more sophisticated, psychological ways to be abusive toward me, to demean me. But I was learning to defend my own soul and I became strong with understanding.

After I’d left home and was married with two sons, I confronted her numerous times over the years about her behavior. She never acknowledged what she’d done.

Some people get better, some get worse. It’s taken much of my life to rid myself of the damage that was done, but I recovered and made a new life, freeing myself from the ghosts of my childhood.

My mother died at age 91, never facing the truth about her life. I took care of her during her last years, treating her with as much compassion as I could, compassion I’d never received, and in so doing, saved my soul.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met ~ Part 10



Harlan Ellison ~ author & screenwriter



During my journalism studies at Cal State Long Beach, professor Larry Meyer arranged for several of his students to interview Harlan Ellison for the college magazine. It was the early eighties, 1981 or 1982 I believe. During our frenetic interview with this manic personality, Ellison felt the need to explain that his psychiatrist said he had a “distended ego,” but that it was not a serious problem.

Good to know.

If I remember correctly, he lived somewhere near the Hollywood area in a large house packed with books and LPs. He had semicircular, ceiling-high bookshelves stuffed with books, accessed by a sliding library ladder. In another room was a room-length shelf overflowing with hundreds of LPs.

No mere mortal would live long enough to read all those books or listen to all those albums, but they were necessary companions for this very intense man and his very intense mind.

Interviewing Ellison was like drinking from a fire hose. He spoke with a kind of rapid-fire energy that intimidated the other students. But I was older, a returning college student on the path of a new career, so I had a little more resilience, a little more courage. And courage was required. When I prefaced a question by saying “As a science fiction writer. . . .” he exploded into a near rage about how he had written in many genres and how he hated being branded as a science fiction writer, even though he’d written stories for “The Outer Limits” and "Star Trek" television shows in the 1960s and the 1980s revival of “The Twilight Zone” and won numerous science fiction awards.

Ellison’s Wikipedia page calls him a writer of speculative fiction.

{Click Here For Harlan Ellison's Wikipedia Page}

The student photographer was shooting so constantly during the interview that when Ellison excused himself for a bathroom break, I advised the eager young man to back off a bit, as I could tell it was irritating Ellison. But the intrepid student photographer was undaunted and did not heed my advice. When Ellison returned, the student resumed his rapid-fire photographing and Ellison erupted: “If you don’t put that thing down I’m going to shove it right up your ass.”

Clearly a man who could only be pushed so far.

Ellison was angry about the state of American politics, especially about Watergate and former President Richard Nixon who resigned from office in 1974 under threat of impeachment. President Gerald Ford had unjustly spared Nixon from criminal prosecution, according to Ellison, by issuing him a pardon. Ellison said Nixon should have been made to stand face to face with the American people who would each slap him in the face as they walked by.

Our interview with Ellison was during the time when the first video game consoles became widely available. Ellison was not a fan of the new technology. He objected to the games that could not be won, games in which the player could only advance toward inevitable defeat as each level became increasingly harder to complete. He believed those types of games were programming young people to expect defeat in the real world.

This prescient writer, who so often explored the future in so many of his stories, viewed the coming technological age with considerable apprehension. Like other iconic writers of science fiction and other genres, Ellison sounded a warning that so many in this age of smartphone addiction still refuse to hear.

~ to be continued


~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

The Music Of Sound





S ome people are more visual, some more audial. For me, it was always sound that penetrated my senses deeper than anything else.


I love sound, all kinds of sounds. Like young people everywhere, I found emotional refuge in music while I was growing up. Music was a drug that restored the chemical imbalances in my brain. I loved sound so much I even became a musician for a few years.

So many of the sounds in everyday life sound like music to me, even voices, and that caused problems in elementary school. I was never very good at math, but I had the added challenge of a math teacher with a Swedish accent, Mr. Westman. Every word he spoke sounded like a note. His sentences collected into melodies. His classroom lectures were sonatas some days, jazz improvisations other days.

Then, every once in a while my name poked through the melodic line: “Russell! What is the answer?” I didn’t even know the question. And even when he repeated the question, all I could hear was the music of his voice. I shook my head to signal my complete confusion, accompanied by the laughter of my far more attentive classmates.

After I was adopted and living in my new home, my earliest memory is of the record player at my grandparent’s house next door. It was so tall I had to stand on a chair to turn it on. It was an old 78 rpm record player on the top of a mahogany cabinet that also contained a small black and white television and a radio. I was too young to actually place records on the record player, but somehow, I managed to turn it on and put the needle on the record. The booming sound of the music was magic.

One afternoon I was listening to some old scratchy record of my grandfather’s that could have very well been “New San Antonio Rose,” by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. My grandfather was from Texas and I loved this recording. Suddenly the sound slowed down and the singing slowed down and I thought some kind of monster was emerging from the music. It sounded like the voice of some awful demon accompanied by a train wreck. It was incredibly frightening. That was the day I learned what electricity was, and what could happen if its magic flow was briefly interrupted, for the demon and the train wreck quickly disappeared, and like a movie run backwards, the music reassembled itself and rose again from the darkness of some terrible underworld.

Moon in all your splendor knows only my heart,
Call back my Rose, Rose of San Antone,
Lips so sweet and tender like petals fallin' apart,
Speak once again of my love, my own.

Yes, that was the day my grandfather taught me something about electricity. I also learned something very important that day about fear.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Under The Bed




















I remember seeing a white, colonial building fronted with columns
    on the day I was left at the orphanage.

At least this memory was always in my mind, but knowing how insatiably curious I’ve always been about my biological parents, my biological circumstances, I knew that I may simply have been filling in the blanks of the great mystery that was my first two years of life. After all, I have absolutely no memory of the mother I'd lived with more than a year.

Then one day when I was in my early twenties, I went there. It was the first time since being left for adoption. I'd phoned a social worker who agreed to meet with me, to tell me some basic “non-identifying” information about my parents. As I approached the address, the building came into view. It looked exactly as I’d remembered: A white building, colonial style, columns and all.

What followed is a blank. I don’t remember the foster family I lived with for the next six months and I don’t remember being taken home by my new parents. Many years later, my grandmother told me that for the first few months, every time the doorbell rang, I’d run and hide under my bed. It took me a long time to shake that fear, and even now, I still get the urge once in a while.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Painting by Erin Payne
© All Rights Reserved

I Am Born




W hen did I start? What is my first conscious memory? You might as well ask when Being burst out of Nothing and became Something.
Who knows?


I was warm, living in a dream. There was sound but not much light. There were thoughts and images without meaning. There was no passage of time, no wanting, just being.

There surely must have been some kind of struggle at the time of my emergence, but this I do not remember. I do remember being removed from my squishy cave into a bright blinding light. I remember crying, but it was more like listening to myself cry from a distance, rather than feeling any personal, emotional impulse to cry.

I was wrapped in cloth and put in what I now believe was the white metal cradle of a scale to measure my weight. I fell asleep, trying to fall back into that place from where I came.

I don’t remember anything else until thirteen months later, the day my mother left me at the orphanage home and never came back.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Poetry Class


“Nothing beats an 18-year-old pair of hips.”

It’s from a poem. Her poem. That blond-haired girl in my college creative writing class, reading her poem out loud, a poem about her love of sex, of having sex, preferably with lean 18-year-old boys at the zenith of their sexual energies.


Within a few days of her recitation I noticed she began coming to class with the professor, a man not quite twice her age who evidently was quite willing to submit his hips to her critical assessment. 

Yes, they had definitely paired off, but unfortunately, the adademic quarter came to an end before she had a chance to construct a poem about this new sexual experience.

But why should I let that fact limit my own imagination?

You Are Not My Daddy

Yes, you are not my daddy.
Yes, you are not my boyfriend.
Yes,
Yes,
Yes.

Oh my God,
Yes!

~ © Blond-haired College Girl

There’s nothing like a college education to expand one’s imagination.


© All Rights Reserved

Incarnation
















D o I believe in reincarnation?

Well, does reincarnation depend on whether I believe in it or not? I definitely believe in Incarnation, because I’m here on this planet writing the inconsequential story of my life, aren’t I? College philosophy aside, yes, I am here. I was incarnated. And if I had prior lifetimes I cannot remember them, which is just fine with me considering how painful it is at my age to remember the more inglorious episodes of this particular incarnation.

Who wants to remember what it was like to have a diaper full of poo? And believe me, that was not worst of it. How deep I go and how much I tell about my life will be tested by this exercise, but at least I’ll have something left for my descendants to ponder, aside from the typical diary which so often disappoints:
June 13, 1776: Had dinner with the Jones tonight. A little rain. Going to fix the wagon tomorrow.
Yes, memory of prior reincarnations would be way too much for me to handle emotionally. So, whether I was Mozart, Hitler or a cocker spaniel in a past life, I just can’t say.

I do remember being born, however, whatever, and can you believe it? Now I’m not saying that it’s a real memory, a true memory. It may very well be a manufactured memory, part of my anarchistic imagination which has been so influential in inspiring me to be no one in particular all these years.

Here’s what WebMD.com has to say about how much newborns can see:
Babies are born with a full visual capacity to see objects and colors. However, newborns are extremely nearsighted. Far away objects are blurry. Newborns can see objects about 8-15 inches away quite sharply. Newborns prefer to look at faces over other shapes and objects and at round shapes with light and dark borders.
So whether or not my memory is based on any truth at all, I cannot say, but I will tell you all about it.




After I Died I Saw My Dog



The first thing I saw after I died was my dog Nova, wagging her tail madly and wriggling like a salamander with delight.


She was the only dog I ever had, a border collie and Australian shepherd mix given to my family when I was twelve years old. There were two puppies, Nova and Scotia.

We got Nova.

Nova was a gift from friends of my parents. The dog donors were people of wealth and standing in the community and so my parents felt they could not refuse, accepting the gift with feigned appreciation.

About a year earlier my parents' English bulldog died. He was a snorting bowlegged drooler named Charlie. He did not enjoy going for walks or companionship of any kind. Charlie was an ornamental dog. Eating, scratching, snoring and rubbing his genitals on the back of an old black cat too feeble to escape his advances—that was Charlie’s life.

I essentially grew up a dogless boy until Nova came into my life. She was my dog by default due to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of my late middle-age parents whose hobbies were dining out, ice cream and television. My older sister was too busy with the demands of high school society to spend time with a dog. But I was in dire need of canine companionship. I was an indifferent student on the low end of the popularity totem pole in a snooty private school that was a freeway away from my neighborhood. My only friends were our three family cats, and they could take me or leave me.

Nova and I were boy-dog, dog-boy soul mates. We were constant companions; the Lewis and Clark of our neighborhood. By summer Nova had grown and loved to run. We were creatures of the summer, awakened early by the excitement of eternal youth. We would never grow old and the day would never end. I see us still, taking the long hike to the foothills, running through unsubdivided fields, collapsing under a shady tree, finding secret places. We will be there forever.

Nova was smart. I taught her dozens of tricks. I'd place a cracker on her nose and she would hold perfectly still until I said, “OK!”, then she’d toss the morsel into the air, catch it and eat it. Each trick she learned reinforced the fact that we could communicate directly with each other. We knew how to say all the things that dogs and boys need to say to one another. We were sincere, and our sincerity was a river of love that flowed between us, through us.

The years went by and I moved away from home, no longer a boy. Nova was always overjoyed to see me when I returned for a visit and she never forgot any of her tricks, always so proud to perform them. One day, I returned home to take her on a last car ride, to the veterinarian. She was dying and my parents decided they could no longer take care of her. When I led her into the verterinarian’s office she was nervous and shaking as I had never seen her shake before. She knew, somehow. I never forgave myself for not being with her when the assistant led her away for that fatal injection.

~ ~ ~

"Welcome to heaven,” Nova said, extraordinarily delighted to see me, yet still remembering her manners and restraining the impulse to jump on me. I’d been in the hospital, sixty-seven years old, with a bleeding ulcer, my skin turned too, too white. After days of weakness and decline I awoke in a place between life and death. I heard a dog barking. I saw her. I crossed over.




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

Grandma's Cat Hotel




I was a lonely little boy.

My father was a traveling salesman and a workaholic. He was from the generation that believed children should not be seen or heard. My mother was a spoiled only child who thought having a boy and a girl was the socially correct thing to do. Things didn’t quite work out. My older sister and I were adopted.

My sister Martha was adopted first, as an infant. About five years later I was adopted shortly before my second birthday. I was a troubled child, wounded by homelessness, adopted by a mother who soon decided she didn’t really enjoy being a mother at all. Her children were supposed to be ornaments, but we turned out to be flesh and blood.

I lived in a house surrounded by my grandfather’s orange grove, next door to his wonderful two-story, Spanish-style home. His orange grove became the enchanted forest of my childhood, and my grandparents were wise, saintly people who gave me the love and guidance missing from my parents.

Yet I was a lonely boy. I was generations away from my parents and grandparents. I was born in 1950. My grandparents were born in 1885. The neighborhood kids had little use for me. They lived on a crowded street of lower-middle-class homes, while I was from a wealthy and privileged family on acres of land. I didn’t fit in, even though I wanted to. I was not allowed to try.

So what does a lonely boy do? I became friends with my grandmother’s cats. She was such a kindhearted soul. Not only would she make sandwiches for homeless men who showed up at her back door now and then, but she also fed every stray cat in the neighborhood. The orange grove was a sanctuary for strays, and they eventually made their way to my grandmother’s back door. But grandmother was a worrier, so she had my grandfather construct an elaborate extension onto a tool shed with lumber and chicken wire which became grandma’s cat hotel.

Grandma’s cat hotel had shelves at all different levels and handmade beds and walkways and all manner of places for the cats to hide in, to feel safe and secure in. She lured them in every afternoon before dark by filling up a wide, flat basket with pie pans of cat food. They were always waiting for her, gathered at her back door. But still, she called, “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,” using a high-pitched voice that sounded like something you’d hear on the Texas farm where both my grandparents were raised. The cats were so hungry that even the wildest of them raced inside grandma’s cat hotel to get their food. This was her way of protecting them from the perils of the night.

Each cat had a name and a particular set of habits and peculiarities which my grandmother taught me. One short-haired gray cat with a white ring around her neck and white paws was named Trippy, after her habit of rubbing against my grandmother’s ankles, threatening to trip her. Bobo Blackie was a solid black tomcat with many battle scars, named after a television wrestler. Most evenings I would visit the cat hotel and talk with each of my friends—petting the friendliest and trying my best to tame the wildest. There were always at least about a dozen cats in grandma’s cat hotel, sometimes nearly twenty or more.

The wildest cats were so afraid, nothing could tame them. They were driven into the cat hotel by hunger, but no matter how many times I spoke kindly to them, no matter how many treats I gave them, they remained fiercely wild. They shivered and hissed as if attacked when I tried to pet them.

After dinnertime was through, each of them settled into a place of repose, despite their uncertain and sometimes fearful lives. Often, I spent an hour or more just watching them curl their paws, narrow their eyes and commune with the eternal. We had a lot in common. I was also a stray, saved by the love of my grandmother.



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




Youth Has An Expiration Date


It is somewhat amusing to older folks to hear pop song lyrics and see pop song videos in which handsome young men worship at the altar of beautiful young women. Oh those words of eternal passion, pledged by the young. How quickly terms and conditions come into play as familiarity grows, as obligations mount, as the marriage ties that bind, bind.

And what of the aging process, that chronological decay of flesh that robs us all of youth’s bounty? Can you visualize a wrinkled old man and woman in a pop song video, singing:

Almost paradise
We're knockin' on heaven's door
Almost paradise
How could we ask for more?
I swear that I can see forever in your eyes
Paradise*


Herman, Marjorie & Bess Allison ~ Redondo Beach, California 1917

No, me either. Youth passes, passion passes and we move on. Yet I remember spending the night at my grandparents’ house many years ago when they were in their seventies. I woke up early the next morning and peeked into their bedroom to see if they were still sleeping. I just happened to see them waking up. My old, wrinkled grandfather gave my old, wrinkled grandmother a kiss and said “Good morning.”

Almost paradise.



*From the song “Almost Paradise” written by Eric Carmen and Dean Pitchford



~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Tuesday


















I found a piece of paper in a parking lot.

It had been run over numerous times, torn and trampled, faded by the sun and still damp from a light morning mist.

Because I was not in a hurry; because I was not wearing earbuds and distracted by music; because I was not staring at a cell phone screen; because I was not talking to anyone; because everything has design, color, shape and texture, I picked up the square piece of paper.

It had been some kind of glossy, card-stock advertisement for a nightclub, probably stuck under the windshield wiper of a parked car long ago.

Looking closer, I saw the face of my lost love, a strand of her curly long auburn hair falling across her bare, thin shoulder and finely sculpted collar bone.

She was smiling and looking skyward, as if she could see all the way to heaven.

That was Tuesday.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by a parking lot
© All Rights Reserved

Gigs — Part Two



When I first began performing in public, it was at high school sock hops—yes, they called them sock hops because they were held in the gymnasium where you had to remove your shoes so you wouldn’t scuff the polished wooden floor. One of our high school gigs was called the “Heaven and Hell Dance.” The gymnasium was partitioned in half, and a loud, raucous, rock-and-roll band played the Hell side. We were the heavenly band, the Crescendos, playing soft, romantic songs for amorous young high-schoolers who wanted to dance close together. Very close together.

I will always remember my best friend and piano player John Baer pounding away on an old upright piano that had been moved onto the stage for us. Its only amplification was by way of a bad microphone. It would be a long time before he actually owned an amplified keyboard. He had to hit the keys so hard for the sound not to be buried by the drums and electric guitar that his fingers bled.

After a year spent learning how to sing in Men’s Chorus, I joined the high school folk music group called the Travelers. In addition to numerous school and community functions, we also played a few gigs at local folk music clubs, including a one-nighter at the relatively famous Ice House in Pasadena, owned by the husband of my half-sister who I did not know existed. I would meet her for the first time 39 years later.

After high school I formed a rock band named Pride (Click here for website), playing my original music at various high school and college concerts. Then it was on to various nightclub and hotel gigs playing the popular songs of the time. I cannot count the number of times I played “Proud Mary” during my gigging years. But the most intricate torture came from repeated performances of “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around The Ole Oak Tree,” a tune that stubbornly resisted any kind of creative interpretation.

I spent six months on the road playing in the Midwest and Alaska, but soon tired of living in hotels. Perhaps the worst part of the six-nights-a-week life of a club musician was playing the same sets of tunes with no variation, no improvisation at all. And so I left the road and went back to performing at nightclubs and hotels in Southern California, interspersed with many recording sessions and concerts of original music at small clubs around Hollywood.


I’d always written songs and short compositions, and was under contract for a while as a songwriter after high school, but nothing came of it. I eventually asked to be let out of my contract, as I could not manufacture the inspiration to write the kind of commercial tunes my producer was so fond of. He’d had successful artists in the past, and years later transformed his Southern California schoolteacher wife into the popular country western persona known as Donna Fargo.

In the years that followed I wrote and recorded hundreds of songs and compositions, but never launched an actual career as an artist. Nobody was interested, and I’ve always been rather unambitious. The fun of creating and playing music always seemed like enough for me. The only way I made money from music was as a guitar player doing gigs.

As I approached the age of thirty, I’d been doing one-nighters for about five years with a group that was consistently booked by some very high-end clients. It was great fun and on occasion some very accomplished and famous players joined our group.

On one particularly memorable evening, we were playing at The Bistro in Beverly Hills, an exclusive restaurant and watering hole whose parking lot was filled with Rolls Royce automobiles. Our drummer that night was studio musician Ralph Humphrey (Click here for website), who had played on Frank Zappa's "Overnight Sensation" album. The Bistro was the hangout of Johnny Carson, who just happened to be in the bar that night. We were playing for a private function in a banquet room. Anyone from the bar who wanted to use the restroom had to pass through a corner of the room where we were playing. When Johnny Carson suddenly appeared on his way to the restroom we were in the middle of a song, but piano player John Baer quickly jumped into the Tonight Show theme. Johnny laughed and pointed at us as if to say, “OK, you got me.”

The musician years were great fun and there is a special kind of bliss one feels being inside an energy-filled, spirit-filled musical performance, playing with other inspired musicians for an appreciative and sometimes intoxicated audience. Unlike club and hotel gigs, the one-nighters allowed us to do far more improvising. With no club owner or hotel manager looking over our shoulders, we were very free to have a lot of fun with the music.


At some point, adolescence, no matter how protracted, must end. For me, it was the approach of the birth of my first son, Joshua, that signaled I was overdue for a life change.


There are so many illusions the amateur and professional artist share, making it especially hard to objectively measure one’s talents and potential for success. But by working with so many talented musicians, I knew I was not among the more gifted or accomplished players. I remember sitting up late one night, taking a cold, hard look at what I’d been doing all those years, trying to see where it all would lead. I could not see a future for myself in music.


My best talents were in composing, yet I was self-taught and way too esoteric to achieve any kind of real success as a popular songwriter. So at age 28, the only way forward for me was to return to college. I eventually decided to major in journalism, knowing I had greater gifts as a writer than as a musician. I was determined to study the most intricate details of writing, not to skip any steps, to dissect the craft as I’d never done with music.


Music was always more of a lifestyle than a career for me, an adolescent lifestyle. I’d put it off as long as I could, but alas, it was finally time to grow up. Yet after my journalism career came to an end, I started composing and recording again, made so much easier this time by the advent of keyboards that can emulate so many different instruments, and digital recording technology: Russ Loar Music.com (Click here for website) I've even been under contract to a sound library and had some of my music used for cable television. And so music is not completely absent from my life, although as the years go by, it is receding.

Music has always been one of the toughest life lessons for me, in that no matter how strong my passion, no matter how strong my desire, there is no substitute for talent.

It's the hard, hard lesson all aspiring artists eventually learn—especially hard for those of us who have not been struck by lightning.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Gigs — Part One






M usic has always been the strongest drug for me, one of the only things in this world that could clearly express the complex tangle of my emotions, so it was quite natural that I wanted to be a musician, to live in this ethereal realm of sound.


I spent a substantial part of my life as a guitar player and occasional singer, my vocal talents being the weaker of the two. I started playing guitar at age twelve after summer camp. My camp counselor played guitar and I was impressed. He was the older brother I’d never had, and his skills on the guitar were so rudimentary that I was not intimidated.

I started out with a horrible guitar from Sears with the strings so high off the fret board they cut into my fingers before the necessary calluses formed. I’d taken trumpet lessons earlier in life, but never bonded with the instrument. After all, it was 1963 and the Beatles were invading popular music. The guitar was the way to learn their songs.

During my first year of high school, I often looked over my backyard fence to watch my next door neighbor Keith rehearsing with his surf band. He played drums. I could see and hear them through the house’s sliding glass doors. O yes, that’s definitely what I wanted to do. I wanted to play in a band.

At various times of my life I’ve seen the future just before it’s come. When my wife was pregnant with our first child we went looking for a house to rent. Finding a "For Rent" sign in front of an old house sitting high above the street in San Pedro overlooking the Los Angeles Harbor, I remember walking up the stairs for the first time, knowing that my young family would be walking up those stairs many more times in the future. Before even seeing the inside of the house, I knew we would live there. I knew the next chapter of our lives would begin there.

It happened again after I’d graduated years later with a degree in journalism. During one of my many unsuccessful job interviews, the editor of a small newspaper had me sit behind a desk in the newsroom while I waited. Looking at the computer keyboard at my fingertips while reporters around me answered phones and typed furiously, I knew that was where I belonged. I knew I’d be working in a newsroom somewhere.

So in the same way, looking over the wall at my neighbor Keith’s surf band, I knew the next chapter of my life would be spent playing music.

I’d met a gifted piano player during summer school before my freshman year at West Covina High School by the name of John Baer. He had astounded students gathered in the music room one day by playing an improvised version of “Lullaby of Birdland” on the baby grand piano. The high school music director, who had spent his early years as a professional piano player, also watched in awe. After this 15-year-old prodigy finished his jaw-dropping performance, the students asked the music director to play, who promptly said, “I’m not going to follow that!”

John and I joined with our neighbor Keith and a saxophone player named Gary to form my first band, The Crescendoes. Our first gig was a dance for young people at the South Hills Country Club. We played “Moon River,” “The Girl From Ipanema,” and other light jazz tunes along with our best imitation of rock & roll and surf music. But we steadfastly refused to play “Louie Louie.” After all, we had artistic integrity. That wouldn't last long.


It was the beginning of a long and often amusing musical collaboration for John and I. We would perform, compose and record music together for the next 15 years, until I finally abandoned my haphazard music career for another stab at college.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Lost In The Desert
















I was in Egypt when I was 15, but it took many years for me to realize
where I'd been and what I'd really seen.



~ by Russ Allison Loar (1st camel on left!)
© All Rights Reserved

I Slapped My Father, Hard



















I  slapped my father hard, a clean open-fisted slap that sent his bifocals skidding across the kitchen floor.


It was the culmination of my accumulated rage against that man. It was a reaffirmation of the difference between us, of the vow I’d made to never, ever become anything at all like him. It was complete rejection, without hesitation.

It was a vow often repeated but first intoned when I was eight years old, the morning after The Dream. It was a dream that would both instruct and haunt me for the rest of my life. In The Dream, I saw my parents as I’d often seen them late in the evening, from behind a canvas shade pulled down to cover the glass-paneled door that separated my tiny bedroom from the family room where they spent their evenings watching television. My makeshift bedroom was originally a den. Although their house was built by an architect, it was not designed for two children. I was the second child.

By curling the edge of the shade back a bit with my thumb and forefinger, I could watch television shows that were on past my bedtime, and I could watch my parents. I discovered my mother smoked. She had never, ever smoked in front of me or my older sister, and especially not in front of her parents who lived next door, who would have been horrified. I also saw my parents drink. Sometimes they filled the house with strangers who talked loud and drank and talked louder and drank more and filled the house with smoke and loud frightening laughter surrounding and invading my tiny dark room.

My parents acted gracious and kind when observed by others, but alone at home they were troubled and angry. I was often jolted out of sleep in the middle of the night by the sobbing and screaming of my mother, anger and accusation from my father. I knew this meant I would be severely disciplined the next day for the smallest transgression. I would be hit. It might be a slap across the face, a spanking or repeated blows during the frenzy of unharnessed rage.

I spent most of my younger years assuming guilt, wondering why I was such a bad child, deserving of so much punishment. But as I grew older, I developed a growing awareness I was not really the cause of their anger, just the excuse.


THE DREAM:

I was standing next to the glass-paneled door in the dark of my room and pulled back the shade just enough to see my parents turning off the television. They began pulling at their hair, finally with much effort pulling off what turned out to be masks, revealing their true faces, the faces of wolves. After removing their clothing, they were fully transformed. They snarled and snickered as they walked on four legs toward their bedroom and out of my sight, malevolently amused at their success in hiding their true identities.

The next morning I vowed I would never give in to these wild beasts, these devourers. I would fight them. I would defend myself. I knew their secret.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by Kevin Hensels
© All Rights Reserved

Life On The Moon?
















M y grandfather Herman Allison, born August 4, 1885, in Morgan's Mill, Texas, once told me that when he was a schoolboy, a topic for debate was: "Is the moon inhabited?"



~ Words and artwork by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Seven



Don Callender ~ Marie Callender's founder


   I was always a rather small cog in the wheel of American journalism, yet I was lucky in meeting notable and accomplished people. I sought them out whenever the opportunity arose, wanting more than anything to hear the stories of how these extraordinary people succeeded and how their thought processes worked.

   I was lucky at the very beginning of my journalism career. I’d only written a few stories during my internship in 1984 at The Orange County Register when the editor suggested I write a story about a newly remodeled Marie Callender’s restaurant in Tustin, California, nearing completion. After contacting the restaurant manager, she mentioned that the founder of the restaurant chain, Don Callender, would be at the restaurant in a few days and I could interview him then. I jumped at the chance.



   When I walked into the restaurant for my lunch meeting with the 57-year-old Don Callender, he eyed me suspiciously until I told him I was the reporter from The Orange County Register he was expecting. He said, “When I saw your shiny shoes I thought: Oh no, here’s another one of these guys from the city." He said shiny-shoed city inspectors were making it difficult for him to open the remodeled restaurant.

   The luncheon interview lasted several hours. He was eager to tell me about the origins of his 112-restaurant chain, how it began with his mother, Marie, making pies for restaurants. “My mother was a good cook at home,” Callender said. “She made good pastries and she was working for a place that had a little lunch counter and she made pies.”

    Callender was generous with his time as we ate lunch, telling me how his parents, Cal and Marie Callender, began a wholesale pie business in 1947 to help supplement the trailer park family’s meager income. They operated out of a rented 20-by-20-foot Quonset hut in Long Beach. Callender delivered his mother’s pies on his bicycle.

   “I grew up on dirt streets and outhouses,” Callender told me. “We started with a rolling pin and 700 bucks. I used to go to work at 11 o’clock at night and work till 5 the next afternoon.”

   The first Marie Callender’s coffee and pie shop opened in 1964, in Orange. In 1986, Callender sold the chain of 120 restaurants to Ramada Inc. for a reported $80 million.

   Callender said his success was born of a strong work ethic and a close-knit family. “Every time you see a kid in a workplace with his parents, I guarantee you, you’ll see a happy kid. They’ve got a sense of worth.”



~ to be continued


~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo by Mark Rightmire for The Orange County Register
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Nine



Tom Hayden ~ anti-war activist



I met Tom Hayden during a press conference in the early 1980s attended by a large, outdoor crowd of students at Cal State Long Beach where I later earned a degree in journalism. I can’t remember if Hayden was already a state assemblyman, or running for the office at that time. He served in the Assembly from 1982 to 1992 and as a California state senator from 1992 to 2000.


Hayden was one of the Chicago Eight, later called the Chicago Seven after defendant Bobby Seale was tried separately. The anti-Vietnam War activists were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and incitement due to their involvement in the violent protests at the notorious Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968. Their conviction was later overturned. Hayden was also one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a left-wing oriented group that was active in the 1960s. He was married to actress Jane Fonda from 1973 to 1990.


Fresh from my transition from musician to college student, I asked Hayden if he thought marijuana should be legalized. He was reluctant to answer the question and joked, “You’ve got to give me a minute. I’m too high to answer that question right now,” prompting laughter from the assembled students. At the end of his extensive joking, he said quietly, “It should be the same as alcohol.” I don't think he wanted to be known as a pro-legalization advocate during that time of his career.



Abbie Hoffman ~ anti-war activist


Abbie Hoffman was also one of the Chicago Eight. I interviewed and photographed Hoffman in 1987 at UC Irvine when I was a reporter at the Irvine World News. Though Hoffman was a respected anti-war activist, author and university lecturer, his speech at the open-air campus rally was comedic as well as political.


He railed against then President Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal, and urged students to protest university research in Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as the “Star Wars” missile defense initiative.


Diagnosed as bipolar, Hoffman committed suicide two years later in 1989. The New York Times reported that a coroner found the residue of 150 phenobarbital pills in his system, along with evidence of alcohol ingestion.


Though Hoffman did his best to encourage the college crowd that day to help create a new generation of student activism, I remember his speech best as a superb standup routine. He could have killed at any comedy club in the country. Thirty years later, I can’t remember the event well enough to quote his humorous remarks, but no doubt about it, inside this scruffy rabble-rouser was the heart of a funny, funny man.



~ to be continued

~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Monster Trucks and Sausages



S omeone gave me free tickets to the monster truck show at the county fair, entitling me to be among the privileged few to witness a huge, elevated truck smash into a motor home.

As I chewed on the tougher parts of my fat-laden giant sausage, I surveyed the enthusiastic monster truck audience, watched them cheer for the wheelie-popping trucks, and mused on just how fragile our participatory democracy truly is.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photograph by FlagWorld.com
© All Rights Reserved




My Afternoon With Alex



The charming and erudite host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, is surprisingly sardonic off camera. The studio audience—about 100 split between members of the general public on the left side of the theater, friends and family of the contestants on the right—had plenty of opportunity to ask him questions during down times between segments, sampling his slightly cynical sense of humor.

I got in the first question, a technique I used as a reporter, knowing that even at a major press conference there is often a reluctance to ask the first question. So I prepared my question in advance, rehearsed it mentally and was ready to go when Trebek asked for questions from the audience.

I asked if he'd ever been a game show contestant; if he would ever be a contestant on Jeopardy! before he retires; and how did he think he'd do as a Jeopardy! contestant.

He said he'd been a contestant on a few game shows, but would not be a contestant on Jeopardy! because then someone else would have to host the show, and "he might be better than I am." How would he do as a Jeopardy! contestant? Trebek said he would probably do well against his "peers." Then, looking directly at me, he said, "I see by your white hair that you might be one of my peers. I would crush you!"

A middle-aged man in the mostly middle-aged audience asked, "How do you pronounce all those foreign words?" Trebek answered with overemphasized, drawn out speech: "W-i-t-h M-y M-o-u-t-h."

I also talked to crisp-toned announcer Johnny Gilbert, asking how many tapings per day the winners do. He said they tape five shows a day. For Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings to win seventy-four consecutive games, he had to win five games in a row, then get up the next morning and go win another five games. Whew indeed! The show tapes Tuesdays and Wednesdays, three weeks a month, nine months a year.

Gilbert introduced two of the three Clue Crew members who were at the taping—Sarah and Jimmy. When the pair stood up and waved to the audience, I saw that Jimmy was wearing a maroon hoodie with "HARVARD" emblazoned on the front in big letters. Yeah, OK. You're smart.

A Few Candid Moments

A fortyish woman asked Trebek what his favorite karaoke song was. He replied, "My favorite karaoke song?" then turned his head to the side and pretended to spit on the floor, saying: "I hate karaoke."

Another audience member asked him what he thought about rap music. As he began to criticize it, he seemed to pause and take a quick scan of the audience, then said he disliked most of it because of the bad language and negative references, adding that he thought it was a bad influence on youth. "Not all of it is bad, but most of it," he said, apparently not wishing to condemn the entire black youth culture.

Surprise! Trebek Doesn't Know Everything

When one of the contestants incorrectly answered "era" instead of "eon" in response to a science question requiring a three-letter word with two vowels, Trebek told the young man that "era" was not a scientific term. One of the fact checkers disagreed.

(Era can be generic, such as the era of horse and buggy, or scientific, such as the Paleozoic era.)

Trebek seemed to think "era" had only a generic meaning. But after the fact checker disagreed, he walked over to the front of the stage where a semicircle of fact checkers are located in a pit behind computer screens and telephones, and picked up one of their dictionaries. He seemed genuinely interested in making sure he had the correct information, although the staff photographer who took candid photos during the taping of the show moved quickly into position to take a few shots of Trebek studiously peering into the dictionary. He lingered just long enough to ensure a good publicity shot.

Trebek Is 73

When asked what books he's read, Trebek said he reads a lot of nonfiction, "political stuff," and also likes novelist "John . . ." and then couldn't think of the author's last name until an audience member called out: "Grisham." Then he mentioned finishing a book during a recent trip, but could not remember what it was. "It'll come to me," he said. It didn't.

So even the sharp-witted Trebek, adjudicator of all knowledge, cannot escape the symptoms of an aging mind. Or perhaps it was just overload, considering all the data that had passed through his brain by the last taping of the day. It was the fifth and last show during a day in which he'd already articulated 264 questions with but a very few misspeaks. Is this reassuring to those of us who worry about occasional memory loss? I don't know, but I'm gonna keep playing.



(Written in March, 2014)



~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Eight



Carlos Vega ~ virtuoso drummer







CarlosVega is perhaps best known as the drummer who played with James Taylor for about 13 years. Among musicians, he was known as a premier recording session drummer, having played with the best session musicians on albums for many of the most popular artists.



Click on this link for his biography.

Click on this link for his drum solo video.

   Carlos was about 19 years old when I played my first gig with him. It was about 1976 and we were playing for a private party at the legendary Hollywood restaurant, Ma Maison, a favorite celebrity hangout.

   I was a guitar player and singer in a quartet called The Entertainers that was often booked at upscale locales for a very wealthy clientele. We played with a variety of drummers, including the legendary Ralph Humphrey who played with Frank Zappa and just about everybody else in the upper crust of musicians.

   When Ralph was unable to do the Ma Maison gig with us, he recommended young Carlos Vega, who was already making a name for himself by playing gigs with famous jazz players such as Freddie Hubbard.

   We were blown away by his remarkable balance between technical virtuosity and natural feeling. He was always right in the pocket, deep in the groove. I played with a variety of musicians during my fifteen years of gigs and recording sessions before changing careers, but I’d never met a young man so gifted and yet so humble about his talents. He was incredibly polite, 
the kind of young man you’d want to bring home to meet your sister.

   Carlos was a joyful soul on the brink of a great career. Sadly, he committed suicide in 1998 at age 41. I am so glad our paths crossed, and so sorry he left this world too soon. I will always think of him as the eager young musician I knew, with so many great years ahead.





~ to be continued