Monday, 15 August 2016

Bonjour, Tristesse

Subtitled 'Hum A Couple Of Bars, And I'll Get It'

Going to the beach this late afternoon, and listening at dinner time to one of my CDs with 'Unchained Melody' on it, caused me to think back to the time that I left university for the last time.  It was mid-June of 1955 - on the very day of my twenty-first birthday, as a matter of interesting fact (at least to me) - and I had left in the middle of Finals Week - failing to take any of my Finals for that quarter, because, well, because it was simply time to.  I had had a 'spiritual experience' in the middle of the previous quarter, and I was, simply, feeling my way in the dark, as it were.  I didn't know what was ahead of me.  All I knew was that my formal education days were over; and it was time for me to find out some 'final' answers to life, in another 'Finals' Week of a sort.

My first stop at the train station in L.A.1 was to check out a Rental car, for I knew that I needed some time before I faced the music back home, with my mother, who had already let me know in a letter that she was most upset at what I had attempted to tell her was going on for me; 2 and somehow I knew/felt that I needed to get to the Pacific Ocean for a spell.  Of calming down.  Of healing.  Whatever.  So I headed straight west - all the way down Sunset Boulevard, towards Santa Monica, where, close to the road's end, dropping onto Pacific Coast Highway, I found a cheap motel, where I stayed for a couple of weeks, I think it was, getting my bearings, for the rest of my journey.  I would drive down to the beach, every day, and just bake in the sun, and walk along it.3

And at night, when I would put finishing touches to my story (I thought, at the time), one night, listening to my portable radio, I heard President Eisenhower's speech at the 10th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.  And - whether it was that same night or not, I don't recall - I heard a station play the record of a singer (a black guy) singing Unchained Melody.  And it has stuck in my mind, and feelings, ever since.

That song.  Not Ike's speech.  I just remember that fact.  Not the essence.

Not like the plaintive, haunting essence of that song.

Which has stayed with me all these years.

The summer of Fifty-five.  Sixty-one years.  That's really enough time to wait to swing into action.

Don't you think?

...And the finishing song on that particular CD of that set is what they call 'Tristesse'.  But - to a person of my certain age - it is 'really' called 'No Other Love'.  The signature song of a woman named Jo Stafford.  Yes, apparently it is a nocturne (an etude, actually) by Chopin.  But to my generation, it will always be No Other Love, by Jo Stafford.4

Ah, those were the days....

Well.  Back to

the Future.



1 When I caught the train from Palo Alto, in northern California, I 'happened' to get on the same car as a gal in my class who I knew, but barely.  I say 'happened' to, because later on, when I was out of the moment's 'trauma' and thinking more clearly about other things, I wondered if it was in fact an accident; that my friend - from back even to my junior high school days, and in the same fraternity with me in high school - who knew what my travel plans were and who took me to the train stop had possibly lined me up to get on that particular car.  The girl had made it clear to me previously, at our Class Day Picnic, that she was interested in getting to know me better; but by then, I had other, 'final' things in mind.   She could have asked my buddy about me, for one thing to lead to another.   I will never know.  I sat next to her on the way back down South, and engaged in conversation with her; but my mind was really on other things.  Like, what did I do in, and for, my next steps in life's little mystery.  She got off the train in LA. with me - although she said that she was heading further south, for San Diego - and we had a wrap-up conversation in a coffee shop in the train station.  But I was too ready to move on to take part in it to any great extent; and said that I, really, had to go, and got up, and left her just silently looking up at me, as I made my awkward exit, from her life, and into the next stage of mine, alone.

2 Something else that was going on for me - along with the residue from the spiritual experience - was that I had decided, once I had accomplished my 'mission,' of making it into Med School for the following year (before the funny thing happened to me on my way to it), to take a Short Story Writing course, and had gotten deeply involved in a story that had taken on a life of its own.  It doesn't matter what the details of the story were, just the essence: that my protagonist was facing some serious questions about life.  In it.  And for me, the - supposed - author.  And I had attempted to tell my mother about this 'happening,' in a letter, that had occasioned her letter of distress back.
   Why didn't people support people who are attempting to find out what life is all about, I remember wondering at one point at that time, instead of thinking that they had 'gone 'round the bend'???...

3 One time, I remember, I found a piece of driftwood washed up on the beach, and, for some reason, threw it back in, to watch what would happen.  And, lo and behold, it got washed up again right at my feet.   And, again for some reason, I threw it back again - this time, harder.  And I kept this up for a while .  Throw out.  Wash up...
   It led me down the beach a ways, before I gave up the game.  Somehow, having
   gotten it.

4  Who hailed from my basic home town, as a matter of further fact.  And from where I am writing this, right now.
   It's a small world.

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