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