Monday, December 26, 2011

For Sunday Scribblings and Three-Word Wednesday

(Also submitted to Magpie 97 and ABC Wednesday.)
"X" is for "Xanax"

Since New Year’s eve is close upon us, my resolution is to tell the story of how I was once living on a Pacific isle with Marilyn Monroe.
How many bloggers can make that claim? :-)
I never thought of Norma Jeane Baker – which is what her real name was – as sexy.

She had such an incredibly miserable childhood, which later became a miserable adulthood, that I found I could feel only compassion and sympathy for her.
(Yes, she spelled it “Jeane,” with one “n.”)
As a child, she was bounced around from orphanage to various depressing foster homes and back again; her mother, Gladys, was, as the saying goes, mentally unstable. It might seem that she would have been a candidate for the drug Xanax, but it didn't exist at that time. (I had to work an "x" in here somewhere.)
When Norma Jeane was six, living with foster parents, Gladys showed up and insisted on taking her away. Since she was shouting and acting unhinged, the foster parents refused to turn Norma Jeane over to her.
Gladys ran into the house, stuffed the screaming kid into a duffel bag, zipped it up and tried to run away with her. The bag split open and the child fell to the ground.
In her autobiography, Norma Jeane wrote that it was not long after this that her mother, "screaming and laughing," was forcibly removed to the state hospital. All this pretty well demolished anything resembling a chance at a normal life for young Norma Jeane.

Somehow the girl lived through this dismal childhood; here she is getting ready to enter Van Nuys High School.

It was there that she met Jim Dougherty. They were married in ’42.

Quick segue to an entirely different story.
At about this time, soon after Pearl Harbor, young Berowne went down and patriotically enlisted, primarily because he had to. :-)
My boot camp was on Catalina Island, which had been transformed from a vacation paradise off the Southern California coast to a huge wartime training camp.
Turned out, Jim Dougherty had become a section leader there, training the boots, and I was one of the boots. He lived on the base with his wife, a very young Norma Jeane Dougherty.

There you have it: Marilyn Monroe and I were together on a Pacific island. Note her big smile: she’s possibly saying, “Wow! I’m going to be with Berowne on this Pacific isle!”
But then again, maybe not. :-)

She later, after Dougherty left, got into war work back on the mainland, spraying airplane parts with fire retardant. Long story short, a “Yank” magazine photographer took her picture; as a result she ultimately wound up with a 20th-Century Fox film contract at an impressive $125 a week.
Which was a helluva lot more than I was making at the time. :-)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday, ABC Wednesday and Magpie 96

"W" is for "Whim"
In the old days, when my son was young, we tried home-schooling. A typical class would go like this…
“Did you find the play difficult?”
“Not really, Dad. I got through it okay.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, it’s about this couple, Lady Macbeth and her husband, Mister Macbeth.”
“That’s a good start. Go on.”
“They’ve got this friend – wait a minute, I’ve got his name here somewhere – yeah, it's Duncan; I knew it had something to do with donuts. Anyway, they’ve got this friend named Duncan who comes to visit. Didn’t turn out well. He sort of checked in and didn’t check out, if you see what I mean.”
“You mean he was killed?”
“You could put it that way.”
“And who did the killing?”
“Well, that’s the thing. They both were in on it, Lady MacB and her old man. Both of ‘em. At first it was just a whim; something they talked about, but then it got serious. Actually, MacB had a firm belief that you didn’t do stuff like that – kill your best friend -- but she egged him on. ‘You can do it! You de man!’ she’d yell at him, and like that.”
“So he went along and committed the murder?”
“Exactly. Here’s a picture of the couple after the killing.”

“H’mm. Some picture. She looks a bit rumpled, and he’s just a shadow.”
“You gotta remember that photography was very new in those days.”
“What about motive? Why did they kill Duncan?”
“Well, you see, Macbeth had a title; he was Thane of Cawdor. Now I guess Cawdor wasn’t much of a town so being Thane of it was sort of small potatoes, if you see what I mean. He wanted something better.”
“As did Lady Macbeth?”
“Oh, man, did she ever! She figured that if they offed Duncan she could wind up as First Lady. She’d be able to throw all the festive parties and so on. Which is exactly what happened.”
“But later she had a change of heart?”
“You’re assuming she had a heart to begin with. But yeah, after a while she began to feel pretty crummy about having liquidated their friend. In fact, it seems she was totally heading over to the unhinged side of town, if you follow my meaning.”
“You do have a novel way of putting things.”
“Show you how crazy she was, she had a dog named Spot. An indoors-type of pooch; never liked the outdoors. She’d yell at him: ‘Out, damned Spot!’ but he wouldn’t budge.”
“I see. A bit of humor.”
“Gotta do something to liven up these lessons.”
“What later happened to Macbeth?”
“Well, actually, I didn’t read any farther than this. As I get it, the dude wound up in a forest named Dunsinane, or something like that. Probably got lost in it. Things like that happened a lot in those days.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday

(Also for Magpie 95 and Sunday Scribblings)
"V" for "Victory"

The above picture might rather nicely, if surreally, suggest a war adventure ol’ Berowne had a few decades ago.
You see, truth is, ol’ Berowne is just that: ol’. He’s been on this earthly planet for an impressive number of years. He served, perhaps not as heroically as some of the others, but he nevertheless served in World War II.
And that war adventure took place in the South Pacific in 1943.

My ship, which was heavily loaded with huge drums of aviation-octane gasoline, was scheduled to leave Australia for New Guinea, where large numbers of aircraft were waiting for us so they could get on with the war.
However, we had earlier on this assignment committed the faux pas of running smack into the Great Barrier Reef, leaving our vessel with an enormous hole in the bow that you could have driven a jeep into. This rendered us almost immobile; actually, it meant that we were forced to creep along at about three knots – about the speed of a tired man walking – to return back to our Australian port.
I was just a kid then and, along with the other crew members, we weren’t feeling all that bad about the hole in the bow. After all, it meant the ship would have to go down to Sydney into drydock while they fixed things, and that meant the crew could enjoy a week or two of Sydney high life while the war was put on hold.
However, an official, some sort of grand panjandrum who was in charge of things, came aboard with news. It seems, he said, they were so desperately in need of our drums of gas up there in New Guinea that authorities decided to send us anyway.
This seemed, to everyone on our ship, simply insane.

Not only did that hole in the bow slow us to three knots, but the Australian coast at that time was looked upon as a happy hunting ground for Japanese submarines. They were sinking ships there in '43 about as fast as they could be built.
And did this geezer realize what our cargo was? This was before jets; warplanes then used gasoline – and aviation-octane gasoline was one of the most volatile and dangerous substances on earth. A sub wouldn’t even have to use a torpedo; one well-placed machine gun bullet could easily blow up our ship.
Well, it seems he had thought of that.

They were going to provide us with our own personal Australian corvette. A corvette was like a small destroyer and its job was to hunt subs. Usually, since they were in short supply, they were restricted for use only with large convoys; however, in this special case – i.e., a ship with a vitally important cargo that could only limp along at three knots – they’d let us have one.
He thanked us all for volunteering for this dangerous mission. None of us could remember having volunteered, and we didn't quite know how to un-volunteer. :-) He made the V for Victory sign and left.
The plan was for the corvette to tightly circle our ship continuously, 24 hours a day, while we crept north. Having a corvette in such close proximity to our ship would hopefully discourage any ambitious Japanese sub commander from trying anything.
It seemed to work. We inched our way along without being attacked. How those Aussie corvette guys must have hated us: endlessly having to circle, circle, day after day.
Anyway, long story short, we finally arrived at the harbor in the New Guinea jungle and anchored. Our captain went ashore to report to the general. Loud shouting was heard from his office.
Seems the two-star guy was angry. Why did they keep sending him all that gasoline? He already had plenty and he didn’t have a fuel depot or any other way to keep more in the jungle. He ordered our skipper to turn around and take it all back to Australia.
The cap’n pointed out we had this big old hole in the bow, and the Aussie corvette had taken off in a hurry once we got there. The general wasn’t interested. “Take it back!” he said.
The skipper, pretty angry himself when he came back aboard, seemed to be bent on retribution. He had us take off the hatch covers and fire up the winches. He began to pick up the drums, one by one, and just dump them in the harbor. (Gasoline floats.) Once the army saw this happening they had a change of heart and sent ducks – the large amphibious trucks – and we loaded it all on to them.
The above may seem to be fiction, an old guy's fairy tale, but it's what happened.
At any rate, I didn’t get to Sydney on that trip but I did on several others. That city was then, I can personally assure you, paradise for an American serviceman. Ah, those beautiful Australian girls; they're grandmothers now. I’d like to think that a few of them look back and remember Berowne fondly, just as he fondly remembers them.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday

(Also for ABC Wednesday and Magpie 94)
"U" is for "Unforgettable"

This week’s prompt illustrates beautifully how the custom of communal dining, which ideally should be a chance for people to come together to enjoy delicious food, good company and conversation, is so often merely the process known as eating.
A meal with others can be a communal event, a sharing of both time and space, something as old as the discovery of fire when presumably prehistoric types sat around the cave near the single heat source that was used to cook their food.
In other words, a shared meal can have meaning; a chance to strengthen bonds or perhaps get to know someone better. In this week’s prompt, possibly a hurried lunch, that meaning is lacking.
I suddenly remembered how important a meal was to one of William Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters, Shylock.
You see, when it came to communal dining, Shylock was against it.
This was not just because the food the Christians of his city ate was different from his Jewish fare; it was because he would go only so far in his relations with them.
He is blunt about it. “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, but I will not eat with you.”
I think it’s quite possible that Will Shakespeare never met a Jew, which is a bit odd when you realize that he created possibly the most famous Jew in all of English literature. For centuries, Jewish characters had appeared in various types of productions as villains, existing in Elizabethan England only as stereotypes and evil, mythical figures. These stereotypes were the playwright’s source for his play.
So the general understanding of that time was that Jews, first and foremost, hated all Christians, and might go to great lengths, if given the opportunity, to do harm to them.

So Shylock, though seemingly a passive man, was actually a cruel and miserly figure, and this would have fitted the usual, sereotypical view of a Jew of that era. But Shakespeare created a character who was also a devoted family man, a person of intelligence, someone even with a sense of humor – and someone who was not afraid to raise his flag against perceived enemies. Shylock was, in short, a human being whose behavior was the result of decades of cruelty by Venetian citizens. Above, Shylock with his daughter, Jessica.
As you undoubtedly know, in the play, during the famous trial sequence, Shylock is stymied when he tries to cut his pound of flesh from Antonio. The beautiful Portia, the play’s heroine, transmogrified into a lawyer, plays her ace: the contract didn't say anything about blood and it's against the law for a Christian's blood to be spilt.
As a result, because he had attempted murder, Shylock is stripped of all his wealth.
Then something interesting happens. The court, showing great magnanimity, will allow him to convert to Christianity.
No one of that time – and perhaps this was true of Shakespeare, too – seems to have realized that this great gift couldn’t have been regarded as such by Shylock.
He had lost his case, lost his fortune, even lost his daughter – who had married, to his disgrace, a Christian – and now he had nothing. He just wanted to get out of there.
“I pray you give me leave to go from hence,” he says. “I am not well.”

(By the way, I posted about Al Pacino’s “Merchant of Venice” a couple of months ago, but I thought I could refer to the play again because the character Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s most interesting, most complex and most challenging.)
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