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

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

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

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

Haunting













Some call it haunting,
These visits I make
To the places I lived,
Where my life was made,
To my childhood home:
The sidewalks still here
Where I rode my bike.
I hear the voice of my grandmother
Calling me in from play
For a sandwich and a glass of milk.
That long summer day
Walking with my grandfather
And all the things he said
About the life that was coming,
Things I scarcely understood,
Things that have guided me,
Lifted me when I fell
So I could begin again
To be like him,
A decent man.

I will not reawaken childhood sorrows.
I have buried them here
After years of torment,
And questions,
And finally,
Resolution.
Yet,
There is a light breeze of melancholy
Blowing through this place,
Blowing through all the places of my life
Where joy and sorrow,
Anger and ecstasy once lived.

Some call it haunting,
These visits I make
To the places where my life took shape,
On my own in tiny rooms,
In anonymous cities:
The rooming house and it’s red-haired landlady,
Mothering the young and single men there
With morality, discipline and compassion,
Teaching us how to respect
What was once a grand hotel
Where dignified gentlemen and ladies
Gracefully ascended
The carpeted stairs of the seaside resort.
And how many lonely nights
Did I sit on the sand at ocean’s edge
Learning how to listen?

Without chronology I travel,
My haunting is outside of time,
Drawn to the passions,
The silly exclamations,
So silly and profound this human animal,
This creature that can love:
Love that girl who gave me her life.
We exchanged lives,
Awakening,
Awakening,
In passion and in play,
Keeping the outside world away.

There are sad and angry rooms
Where I will not return,
For my haunting is to be free of regret,
Except for a kind of regret that sends me back,
Back in time to where happiness began,
Where happiness had the power to overwhelm,
To overwhelm life’s myriad frustrations.
O my soul has traveled in dark haunts enough,
Finally worn out its punishments,
Deserved and undeserved,
My penance,
Paid.

Now my soul travels in light,
In melancholy radiance:
I see my young family,
Laughter in their voices,
Youth and electricity in every movement,
And the future is infinite,
Full of imagination,
Full of hope,
And the growing of my life
Becomes the growing of my family
And I am no longer a single being,
I am larger.

Some call it haunting,
These visits I make
To where my beginnings began,
But this too will end
When I begin again.



~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

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