Archive for January, 2015

A Little Light-hearted Humor…with a Bit of Bite

© 1983, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: Hi, folks! I have a confession to make: I haven’t got anything fresh to write about, not anything anyway that anyone but the fellows down at Harry’s Tinaja bar would relate to. So, until some truly insightful inspiration pops into my brain, I thought I would continue with what I have been doing the past two posts: delve into my remaining stack of old newspaper columns and feature articles.

If you are one of those readers who can see nothing valuable in recycled material and want to desert me, I can well understand where you are coming from. I will not resent that at all. Well, actually I probably won’t even be aware of it, unless you write a “Dear John” email informing me of the dump.

For the rest of you dear, faithful readers, I will write a brief preface here of what you can expect in the near future, unless that pesky muse suddenly inundates me with ideas. I have a stack of ten to fifteen articles from my newspapering days to share with the Cyberworld. I say “ten to fifteen” by design because I possibly might cull a few out as being either too dated or as not quite clearing the high bar of interest or humor. A few are funny and a few are serious, one even “deadly” serious. A couple of others are just plain weird. So, stick around and enjoy!!!

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An exposé of female manners…!

C.J. FAWCETT tells me he never had more fun than working in a supermarket.  “I learned so much about people just watching them shop for food,” he said. “I wonder if there’s any correlation between the way a woman pushes a grocery cart and the way she drives a car.”

I smiled at him.  “My impression has been that women act the rudest in supermarkets and laundromats,” I said. “That was the main reason I bought a washer and dryer and I eat more often in restaurants than at home.”

Our little conversation got me to reminiscing about experiences in washaterias and grocery stores.  I used to try to get to the washateria at the time it opened on Sunday morning.  That would usually give me about 30 minutes with maybe only one or two other people showing up.  I could get all my laundry—not much really—into two or three washers close together.

If for some reason I didn’t make it early enough, a sense of doom drifted like a cloud over my head.  I knew I was probably in for a rough go of it.  Sure enough, entering the place I could see that all of the carts had been appropriated and that, instead of clothes in them, there would be giant-sized boxes of soap or maybe a baby.  Also, rather than being parked in front of the washers where the ladies’ clothes were, they would be parked as reservation signs in front of the dryers.

Thank goodness I don’t have to cope with that anymore!

However, I still have to contend with female aggression at the supermarket.  Sometimes, though, their rudeness at the grocery store is at least humorous.  As C.J. said, most of it has to do with the way they push their carts, or rather abandon them temporarily in the middle of one aisle while they go into another aisle to pick up something they forgot.

The routine that really tickles me happens in front of the vegetable bins.  I’ll be behind some lady who is strolling along taking a leisurely gander at the produce, apparently not certain what she wants.  I, who had already decided before arriving at the store that I needed a couple of tomatoes, will start to reach for a nice, full, firm, red tomato; the lady, her neck craned around, suddenly decides the tomatoes weren’t so bad-looking after all and she grabs up the one I was reaching for.

And then there are those young mothers who couldn’t find anyone to look after their two-year-olds while they go to the store.  Actually, this is not so much a situation involving rudeness as it is one involving danger—not to the kid but to the merchandise.  For some reason I cannot fathom, the mothers don’t anticipate that when they park their cart, with the child sitting in it, in front of a tiered stack of syrup jars something catastrophic could happen.

Well, guess I’ve made enough enemies for one day.  Better let it be at that.  I will mention, however, that practically everybody I’ve mentioned this lack of females’ manners to has agreed with me….Of course, they’ve all been men.

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The mayor a teetotaling hooker…?

MAYOR Richard Hoyer says he’s been receiving a lot of good-natured razzing because he’s helping the women latch-hook a bunch of tapestries for the community center.

“One thing I’ve found out,” he told me, “is that drinking and hooking don’t go together.  I’ve had to forgo my nightly nip.”

The mayor’s tapestry project depicts the Monahans water tower—one of the achievements during his tenure of which he is most proud.  His only problem with it is that the sketch for the tapestry contains flowers.  “There aren’t flowers out there,” he said. “The kids ate ’em all.”

— The Monahans News, September 29, 1983



Gene Autry: An Appreciation

Gene Autry

GENE AUTRY, AKA, “The Singing Cowboy” and “Public Cowboy No. 1”. Although Gene did acknowledge having a problem with alcohol during some crucial career years (which was when “Trigger” usurped Gene’s pre-eminent place at the box office), he was nonetheless a positive image for me and many other children in several respects. A small boy could have done worse emulating some other role model; I don’t know how he could have done better.

PHOTO CREDIT: Microsoft Images/Illustrations
TEXT: © 1981, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS:  As was the case with the blog post I published last Saturday, about Errol Flynn, this commentary originally appeared in the Monahans News. It is similar to that post in another respect: it is a salute to one of my childhood heroes.

The impetus for the essay was an announcement that former Andrews, Texas, mayor Louis Miller had arranged for a weekend exhibit of memorabilia pertaining to Gene Autry. I did not discover until a few years later that Gene did not appreciate such events; he considered them slightly tacky. He much preferred museums, like the one he established in Los Angeles initially called the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and now known as Autry National Center of the American West. Gene reportedly said that he instituted that museum as his way of showing appreciation for the culture of the Southwestern United States, which he viewed as having been the inspiration for his career. The museum is a multi-purpose facility designed as a combination library, art gallery, theater, and research facility. But hey, that’s okay. Mayor Miller’s intention was well-meaning; like myself, he was an old Gene Autry fan in his childhood.

For those of my regular readers who are concerned that these posts about movie stars might become too much, you can relax. This is the last one, at least as far as I know. I do not plan any others; but I prefer not to promise anything.

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Mayor Louis Miller of Andrews has “beat us to the punch”. He and the Andrews Chamber of Commerce are staging “The Mayor’s Tribute to Gene Autry — an American Hero” this weekend at that city’s Civic Center. Over the two days they plan to show nine of Autry’s movies and memorabilia brought there by collectors.

More than once during the last year or so I have attempted to write a tribute to Gene, but several considerations inhibited me. For one, too much of the impetus for such an essay must be based on nostalgia, I thought, and I consider nostalgia a waste of emotional energy. I have since rationalized this problem away, however, by reflecting that I and thousands of other children of the 1930s and 1940s were partly molded by the force of Autry’s personality as we perceived it on the screen. To no little extent that pattern is still operative within us in our daily relations with other persons.

A second problem I faced was that it was unlikely that people raised on television would be able to comprehend the generation of the Saturday matinee. For many of us born before the midpoint of the century the Saturday matinee was the main social event of the week. It was such a big event, in fact, that when we returned home from the theater we acted out the whole story again. It little mattered to us that there wasn’t much substance or variety in the plots: That was a positive factor.  Cartoonist Hank Ketchum recently revealed his own belonging to our generation when he had Dennis the Menace say to Joey as they left the movie house, “Same clothes, same horse, same story — just what I like!”

The television generation can’t relate to that, I thought. The closest they have come to it has been their response to “Star Wars”. But the news of the Andrews film festival and other Autry appreciation days throughout the country has made me realize that my generation is the one that is doing things now. Our time to lead and influence has arrived.  It is therefore right that we take time to remind ourselves of the sources of our making.

Finally, and most inhibiting of all was my fear that I would not do as perfect a job as I desired. Some enterprises seem too precious to attempt. I would have to reach too far into the past, and there would be the danger of meandering or becoming mawkish. How does one describe “charisma”?  Gene was not a top-grade actor. He knew that better than anyone, having in one interview referred to himself as a ten-cent baby-sitter. (Nine cents was the price of a child’s ticket at our neighborhood movie house then.)

However, it wasn’t through acting that Gene impressed me. After all, he spent more time singing than he did saying anything. It was while he was singing that he most strongly affected me, not by his songs (although I enjoyed them) but by the way he had of tilting his head to one side and looking directly at one in a unique, indescribable way, smiling. Deep down inside at least one small boy’s soul an inarticulate realization developed: “This man is absolutely open and clear,” I thought to myself, not in those express words but as a child thinks.

Gene Autry was my first and most impacting role model. The world was at war then, and many other absurd and evil things were happening in the realm of the adults I couldn’t understand.  Largely because of Autry’s influence on me, my own small world had its coherence and comprehensible value system. Above and beyond his ten-point “Cowboy Code” (avoid bad habits, be a good worker, be gentle with children and the elderly, etc.) real virtue emanated from him in a natural aura. It could have been that I saw what I wanted to see rather than what actually was. No matter. The end result, I believe, was good.

I met Gene Autry once when I was yet small enough to ride stick horses. My parents had taken me to the Music Hall at the State Fair in Dallas to attend one of Autry’s live performances. After it was over we went around to the stage door. It was a chilly fall night. Either for that reason or because all the sensible people had sought his autograph inside, we were the only ones there. My mother and father waited out by the driveway but told me to stand by the door. Eventually performers and stage hands came out in small groups.

Then the door was unopened for what seemed like an interminable period.

Finally, Gene and a woman came out. “Hi,” I said timidly, the shadows of the trees not obliterating me enough. “Hello there,” he said with a smile and kept on going. My mother spoke to him by the driveway. “Mister Autry, won’t you talk a bit with my son?  He idolizes you.”

That stopped him. He squatted down to my level and shook my hand. I extended the wrong hand. He chatted with me for a little while — or tried to at least. I was tongue-tied with awe. To this day I don’t remember what he said. Then he and the woman got into the back seat of a black limousine and were driven away.

There is too much truth in Thomas Wolfe’s warning: “You can’t go home again.” Nevertheless, I am going to try “going home” one more time this weekend. I’m heading for Andrews. See you there.

The Monahans News, April 5, 1981

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to read any comments or helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page above the title of this post. Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.

Of Errol Flynn…Friendships and Dreams

Adventures of Robin Hood(1938).docx

ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) Errol Flynn as Robin Hood takes aim at one of the king’s deer while Will Scarlet (Patric Knowles) looks on. Flynn was too well-suited to such swash-buckling roles to readily escape type-casting, although he did obtain other roles in several combat movies during WWII, as well as the part of 19th century boxer “Gentleman Jim” Corbett {1942) and Mike Campbell in the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” (1957), two years before his death at age 50.

PHOTOS CREDITS: Microsoft Word Clip Art

TEXT: © 1985, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

I saw the filmed autobiography of Errol Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, on CBS a few weeks ago.  Although it had an abundance of true-life comedy and adventure, it was generally a sad story, as I think most biographies of interesting people are bound to be.

Other than Gene Autry, Errol Flynn is the only hero I can remember having as a child.  Well, actually my hero-worship of Flynn was a composite of him and Robin Hood, the part with which I most identified him.  But, Robin Hood was long ago and Flynn was of the present.

As years passed, I was vaguely aware of Flynn’s risky love affairs.  I wasn’t a reader of movie magazines, but such incidents were also reported elsewhere.  They tarnished his image a bit for me, but I silently rooted for him and hoped that all would turn out well.

And Robin Hood?  Robin Hood was printed forever (?) on celluloid and in Howard Pyle’s book of the legends.  I used to play the role in hours of transcendent imagination, which frequently overwhelm susceptible children.  With imaginary bow and arrow I would win the imaginary archery shoot and take the golden arrow.  Armed with a yard stick, which imagination miraculously transformed into a broadsword, I dealt Sir Guy of Gisborne a death blow.  (Never, however, did I let imagination carry me so far away as to jump on and off my mother’s furniture.)

But back to Flynn.  What struck me most about the television biography were two things: (1) the tenuousness and fragility of relationships and (2) the ease with which one can be deflected from even the simplest life goals.

If we are to believe the film, Flynn married his first wife, Lili Damita, because she threatened to throw herself off a window ledge if he didn’t.  And after they were married she couldn’t tolerate the adoration Flynn’s female fans showered upon him.  She apparently became ever more neurotically possessive and finally “took him to the cleaners” in divorce court.

Then there was Flynn’s own idol―John Barrymore.  Flynn practically made a rest home out of some rooms in his house for the aged, alcoholic actor.  Barrymore died, and another of Flynn’s closest friends, a stunt man, was killed while doing a stunt―both deaths occurring in the same week.  After spending an evening trying to drink his grief away, Flynn came home, turned on the light in his living room and screamed with horror at the sight of Barrymore, neatly groomed and dressed, sitting upright in a chair.

When Flynn started to run out of his house, three of his friends popped out of the shadowy foyer and stopped him, explaining that they had bribed the mortician to let them bring Barrymore home for a last round of drinks with his chums.  With a hand still shaking from the fright, Flynn filled some glasses, and they all raised them toward Barrymore in manner of a toast.

Friends!  I wondered which was the case: That they were good friends because they had gone to an extreme length to arrange a final drink between buddies; or that they were bad friends because, in their foolish desire to make it a surprise, they had scared a friend almost out of his wits?

The other point ― how easy it is to be deflected from even simple goals ― was exemplified by the hold Jack Warner and Hollywood generally had over Flynn.  Judging by the film, I gathered that all Flynn wanted to do was play in serious roles (such as Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind”) and earn enough money to buy a boat large enough to sail around the world.  Because of his various relationships, however, he couldn’t seem to break away from Hollywood or from his roles as a swashbuckler.  (Nice irony there!)

Given the contrast of Flynn’s personal situation (a $2,500 a week salary) with that of the American public as a whole when he was making his most memorable films ― between 1935 and 1940 ― one is perhaps justified in accusing him of being just a bit self-indulgent.  Moreover, it can reasonably be argued that by providing escapist films for a suffering world he was doing more good for his fellow humans than he ever could have done aboard a boat sailing the seas.

Apparently, there wasn’t much he could do about obtaining more serious roles; in those days, once you were a success at the box office in one particular part, you were type-cast.  Still, to sail to the Fijis and Malaysia in his own ship was Flynn’s personal dream―regardless of how simple or even simple-minded it was from our point of view―and perhaps he did himself great personal harm we cannot imagine by not carrying through with his dream.

Erroll Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways

“My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Legend of Errol Flynn” was the title of the 1985 CBS Television biography I watched in Monahans. The TV bio’s title was taken, in part, from the title of Flynn’s ghost-written autobiography published in 1959, the year he died.

— The Monahans News, February 7, 1985

By the way, yesterday Chris Ruggia and I discussed my January 19th blog post, “Bob’s Current Preferences”, and he explained his intent in the third panel of the comic there. Consequently, I added a few sentences to the end of the post; so any of you readers who have already read that post and are curious about the mysterious “brush” can click on the listing at the side of this page, under “Recent Posts”, and return to the cartoon and my “explication” of it.

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to read any comments or helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page above the title of this post. Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.

Bob’s Current Preferences

Bob's Current Reading Preferences

I recently received an email from my local artist friend, Chris Ruggia. It includes the brief comic strip above.  I find it to be marvelous and am much flattered by it, even though there is a touch of the satirical in it.

You see, Chris and I meet every other Friday morning at my apartment for about two hours of coffee or juice, and conversation. Our topics range widely, but they are usually much more “on point” and satisfying than the conversations I’m used to in the bars and coffee shops.

I have occasionally expressed to Chris my hope that he will eventually pause for a while in his production of comic books about animals and do something involving only–or mostly–humans. I have also tried a couple of times to convert him to poetry by showing him my favorite poems by Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Robert Browning and Emily Dickinson. The reference in the second panel of the comic strip is to Emily’s poem about being startled upon perceiving the movement of a supposed snake in the grass. (Also note the poet in the tree—a mockingbird, my mystical messenger.) I was unsuccessful in bringing Chris up to the level of poetry-appreciation I cherish: Don’t even try anymore.

I should explain a little about the “fear and trembling” note in the first panel, and the humans in the last. A few months ago, I was reading for the second time Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling — a difficult book to understand, not because it is too deep but because Kierkegaard wandered about too much in his sentences and paragraphs and because he allowed his emotional break-up with his fiancée to affect his writing (according to Bob).

Hopefully, this background will give you some sense of what is going on in the final panel. Kierkegaard’s fiancée did not leave him; he left her. And then he entangled the whole angst episode up in the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard reportedly was slightly shocked when the young lady, as Bertrand Russell opined, “very sensibly married someone else”.

I have no idea yet what the fiancée, in the last panel, is waving in her hand. Is it a brush with which she brushed Kierkegaard off? I’ll ask Chris Friday.⇓<See postscript below.>

For a fuller sampling of Chris’s comic book creations (three now), click on or copy-and-paste this URL onto whatever that line at the top is called.  (The main character in his comic books is a jackrabbit.)


POSTSCRIPT: Friday, January 23> Well, I discussed this post with Chris Ruggia this morning. He told me that he “loved” the way I connected the last panel of his cartoon with Kierkegaard. However, he added, he and his wife had recently watched one of the film adaptations of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, and he had been thinking of that movie while drawing the cartoon. The hair of the man in particular had been modeled on the hair styles of two of the movie’s characters. (Kierkegaard’s hair actually was fuller and puffed up in front, comparable, I imagine, to Justin Bieber’s.) Also, Chris explained that the woman is admiring a long, dry thistle—which she prefers to listening to her suitor.

I told Chris that I still like my assumption that it is a brush—in fact, a toilet bowl brush.

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to read any comments or helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page above the title of this post. Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.

Modes of Knowing

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

By way of backstory here, I am going to have to beg your indulgence while I engage in meandering through a little bit of that old solipsistic sand again. Believe me, this brief digression is necessary toward an understanding of at least the motivation for the essay that follows.

Back in my teen years I realized that my family life was not ordinary and especially did not come anywhere near the ideal as portrayed on that old TV show “Father Knows Best”. My two older brothers were mostly absent, although occasionally showing up at the house which I shared with my mother. My father often enough appeared on one of the weekend days; but, since his visits were usually marred by temper tantrums, I was satisfied with the infrequency. This situation I contrasted with the family scenes at some of my friends’ homes, and the contrast was depressing.

I went to church by myself. There, too, the atmosphere was more reflective of a well-adjusted family, although a disparate one. Since I could not ask to be adopted into one of my friends’ families, I believe I subconsciously claimed the institutional church family as my own. In fact, for decades afterwards—church, air force stint, a lengthy university period—I relied on institutions to provide sustenance, organization, and meaning in my life. However, during all those years I saw evidences that the institutional homes had some problems, too. Everything devised by humans could never be perfectly whole; there were bound to be leaking cracks in the structure.

In those early years I found it excruciatingly painful searching for my “niche”—particularly my career niche—in the world’s wobbly organization. While sitting in the pew at church services, I observed the preacher and his honorable position in life. I liked the man so much I practically made a father-figure out of him, although I never told him so. After maybe a year, I met with him in his study and informed him that I wanted to dedicate my life to the ministry. He was obviously very glad to hear my declaration and made a point from that moment frequently to encourage me toward a pastoral career. On one memorable day, as we were in his car heading toward a regional church conference, he said, “Once God calls you, he will never let you go.”

I never followed through as far as pastoral training is concerned, although I eventually came to view my work as a newspaper editor a valid type of ministry in the sense of seeking to serve the people for their benefit. However, even while doing some good in my career as a journalist, I sometimes recalled that preacher’s promise…or warning…: ‟He will never let you go.” Sometimes, while bending over the composing table to paste up pages, I perceived an extraneous thought, “You are the man for the job.” Every time I felt that remark, I asked nobody in particular, under my breath, “What job?”

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a philosopher—a professional philosopher even though not a remunerated, academic one. However, I soon discovered that I suffered from one major handicap: lack of mathematical aptitude. Much, if not most, of modern philosophy is conducted through logical theorems and proofs, not in Socratic-style dialogues or Nietzschean aphorisms or in Humean essays. And alphabet letters combined with their attendant peculiar symbols and equations were always too opaque for me: I am not an abstract thinker.

My only recourse, I finally resolved, was to proceed as an outdated literary philosopher. Perhaps a truer denotation would be “an old-timey, cracker-barrel philosopher”. After all, is not every other profession being overturned by some new method of dealing with its material, even that of the symbolic logicians: they will probably find themselves to be fossils someday soon.

Now, besides the various methods of philosophy, there are also the several areas of philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics being the major fields. I have already published a few posts specifically concerning aesthetics and epistemology. I have also presented less definite offerings related, at least tangentially, to ethics and metaphysics. Today, I would like to present for your consideration a fuller meditation (as I like to call my philosophical essays) on the question of how we know, or come to know, some things: epistemology. While reading the following, keep in mind my anecdote of the composing table incident mentioned above.

When I began to seriously cogitate on the state of knowingness I was amusedly surprised to realize that there are several means of becoming aware of something. In fact, although I intend to discuss here the several that I pondered, I cannot honestly declare that there are not more.

Let me at first name and briefly define, in my own terms, the types of knowing that I have thought of:

(1) Basic:  Immediately at hand, e.g., our own names, although in some conditions, such as amnesia, the knowledge may not be presently available.
(2) Learned, often by Rote:  Memorized ad nauseam, each part except the first and last calls up another part via juxtaposition.
(3) “Tip-of-the-tongue”: We know the word or name, but it hides from us temporarily.
(4) Experiential: We know it’s difficult to fill a black or brown cup with coffee because we’ve done it.
(5) Déjà vu: Nearly everybody recognizes this term, and most acknowledge experiencing it: it is the French phrase for “already seen” and involves those odd moments when we seem to remember elements in a present situation that are very similar to elements of a previous experience, but we cannot remember the exact former situation.
6) Surmise: Given enough ancillary information, we deduce the only probable answer or outcome.
7) Mystical (Prescience): Internal, non-verbal, unsought, fleeting, ineffable knowledge.

Such is the list I have come up with. As I acknowledged above, more types of knowing might exist; I am not trying here to be all-inclusive. I just meant to emphasize that several types exist. Most of the modes above are certainly recognizable by everyone, so I will not dwell on numbers 1, 2, 4 and 6.

I will, however, briefly comment on numbers 3 and 5, both of which I find engrossingly fun to ponder.

Tip-of-the-tongue:   Imagine a very deep cellar with piles and piles of junk scattered on the floor. At the main floor (where you are) there are several stairways leading down to the cellar. You try them all but can’t reach the cellar (where whatever you want to retrieve is located), so you give up and decide to go to lunch down yet another stairway, at the other end of the long hallway; and, lo and behold, you bump into whatever it is you were looking for; it is coming up the stairs, looking for you.

Déjà vu: I don’t know if there are any scientific theories explaining it, but I have long had my own theory; viz., there is a whole aggregation of sensations and experiences jumbled together in our subconscious; sometimes we experience something which contains elements almost exactly reflective (or duplicative) of a previous experience, and thus we feel very fleetingly that we must have experienced the whole event before.

But the mode of knowing I want to concentrate on here (although it is very difficult to concentrate on) is number 7, the mystical or prescient.

Back in 1976, the late Julian Jaynes, at that time a psychology professor at Princeton University, published a book with a title almost as long as the book itself: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In it, he posited that until around 3,000 years ago people could not reason as we do today; when confronted with novel or stressful situations, they were dependent upon audio hallucinations within the right side of the brain to tell them what to do. This manner of coping persisted until, eventually, people were forced by catastrophe or cataclysm into the necessity of thinking consciously. Jaynes claimed that Homer’s first epic, The Iliad, was composed by a person who was one of the pre-conscious group; while The Odyssey was composed by someone who was more “modern”. Prophecy, poetry and schizophrenia all owe their origins to the “bicameral mind”, according to Jaynes. So, we still have some people today who are of that sort. One of my former psychiatrists intimated, by suggesting that I read Jaynes’ book, that I am one of the pre-conscious folks. After reading a testimony I had written about my mystical experiences, he diagnosed me as schizo-affective.

Observations during recent years have led me to believe that he was probably right. On two occasions in the past decade, I have asked two young waitresses why they said to me, days prior, odd remarks. One had said, as I recalled, “You act like you own this place (the restaurant)”, and the other had said, “I’ve heard bad things about you”. Both later denied they had said any such things. On yet another occasion, while standing in line to pay for my breakfast at a café, I was informed by the man ahead of me, whom I knew but not well, “You think too much”. No conversation had passed between us before that comment; it just came “out of the blue”. Perhaps what I thought I had heard those persons say was what I actually heard them think.

In the recent past, I have happened upon more intriguing incidents of unconscious “knowing”. Unfortunately, I guess, both were episodes in fictional works: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Joss Whedon’s TV series “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer”.

In Chapter 27 of Dracula, while Abraham Van Helsing and Mina Harker are proceeding through the wintry harshness of the Borgo Pass on their way to Dracula’s castle, where they intend to “kill” Dracula and his “brides”, Mina (who has already been bitten once by Dracula), points to a side road and says to Van Helsing, ‘This is the way.’

‘How know you it?’ asks Van Helsing.

‘Of course I know it,’ Mina answers, and then, pausing until she comes up with a plausible reason, utters, ‘Have not my Jonathan travelled it and wrote of his travel?’

Some other similar incidents, these involving Van Helsing as well as Mina, occur here and there in the novel. In Van Helsing’s case, we can suppose his knowledge derives from his broad and deep reading in books on the supernatural. However, the way he emphasizes it makes me believe his knowingness has a more sub-cranial basis. In Mina’s case, we sense that her knowledge comes from the developing infection caused by Dracula’s bite: She is being transformed slowly into a vampire.

In “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer”, the mystical knowledge comes to Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers, in Season 5, Episode 9, when a brain-cancer, or the operation to remove it, affects her knowing capability. It causes her to realize that Dawn, whom she has mysteriously accepted as her daughter, is not in fact her daughter. She can’t explain how she knows it; she just does.

And in a manner similar to Van Helsing’s fount of supernatural knowledge, Buffy, in Season 5, Episode 21, realizes that “Glory the hell-god” will win in the contest between them. Says she to one of her friends: ‘I didn’t just know it; I felt it.’

I apologize for resorting to fictional works for my “evidence” here, but, except for my own personal experiences, that is pretty much all I can go by. However, does not the use of such elements by creative writers cause us to suspect that there is at least an ounce of truth in such phenomena? Is it related, perhaps, to Extra-Sensory Perception? Or even—to go the whole way—due to paranormal ability? Are not we all, on at least a few occasions, almost shocked by our own prescience?


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The Other Side of the Altar, Part II

Pastor with couple No. 1

PREMARITAL AND POSTMARITAL counseling can be arduous for couples–and for the pastor, too–because the affianced or newly-weds are usually so emotionally involved in their relationship that they cannot look at it objectively.

How Ministers View Weddings, Alpine

NOTE TO READERS: While reading the article below, keep in mind that it was written in 1996. All the ministers quoted have moved on to other parishes or retired. The priest has left the priesthood. I had originally intended to alter the verb tenses in this re-publication to better reflect that these interviews are now history, not current events. However, that tack proved to be unworkable for me, so I am leaving the article as it originally was printed, except for correcting any typos I spot.


© 1996, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

By the time most young lovers set a date for marriage they’re usually too much in love to consider counseling worth their time, but they feel obliged to talk to the minister anyway.

Local ministers vary in their approaches to pre-wedding and post-wedding counseling, largely in response to what they have learned from couples’ reactions earlier in their careers.

First United Methodist pastor Rush Smith has been a minister for 19-1/2 years now.  While he was serving churches in El Paso he had couples take a compatibility test: “The test didn’t make any difference whether I married them,” he says, “but it gave us something to talk about. Here in Alpine during the first year I found that nobody even wanted to take it. They already pretty much knew their compatibilities. They’d just come right out and tell you, ‘Well, he won’t do this’….‘Well, she don’t like that.’”  Finally, he quit suggesting the test.  “It wasn’t something I dropped reluctantly,” he adds.

Now, in two or three sessions before the wedding, Smith tries simply to get to know the couple.  He concentrates on the expectations of young engaged couples, while older couples require a different scenario.

“The church requires I ask how long divorced persons have been divorced, and, most important, are there children involved,” he says. “I try to talk through many of the situations with children: Where’s the discipline going to center? Where do children fit in? Should they have children of their own?  I want to know why the previous marriages didn’t work. Then we talk about how that might affect this marriage and be avoided.

“In both cases, we always talk about the format of the ceremony itself.  That’s really up to the bride; it’s her day.”  In nearly every instance the preferred service is traditional — out of the book — but what happens afterwards can sometimes be unconventional.  Smith recalls how he married a couple in the traditional manner and then watched them drive off in an 18-wheeler, fully loaded.  “They were both truckers,” says Smith, “and they had to make a run to Houston. Some other truckers on motorcycles escorted them out of town.”

Smith says he doesn’t suggest any post-wedding counseling. “I think that would be a little presumptuous on my part,” he says.  However, he will meet again with the couple if they request it.

Baptist minister Philip McCraw, like Smith, has three pre-wedding counseling sessions and spends the time trying to get to know the couple and build up a rapport with them.  He differs from Smith, however, in that he uses a series of three videos and requests a post-wedding session.

“There are three basic things I work on,” says McCraw, “communication, money and sex. The video deals with all three. I spend most of my time dealing with the specifics of the situation.”

McCraw says he asks a couple if their parents were divorced and whether they consider their parents to have been good role models.  He asks if they consider their parents’ marriages to have been healthy ones.

Other questions discover whether they have been married before, whether they already have children, whether they are living together, and whether both families are supportive of their marriage.  “I’m looking for factors that are going to lead to a healthy marriage and factors that are going to be inhibitors,” McCraw explains. “I lay those out for them and find out if they are talking to each other about them.”

McCraw suggests that the couple return in six months for another talk.  “I can’t require it,” he says, “so I try to set up in the first three sessions a scenario where they can enjoy it and want to come back. Some do; most don’t.”

However, McCraw says he’s not overly concerned about the lack of response to the post-wedding counseling session among his Alpine couples, because he often encounters them around town and can check up on them informally.  “I try to set up a rapport,” he says, “and I think they are surprised how gracious I am with their situation and that I’m not here to condemn.”

Of the 30 marriages he has performed, McCraw says he feels regret about going through with only one of them. “The woman told me she had already had a child by a man she never married,” McCraw recalls. “During our third session, she said, ‘I ought to tell you I’m pregnant with his (her fiancé’s) child.’  Six months later, they attempted to come in — she called, but he wouldn’t come in with her,” McCraw says.  In a poignant footnote to the episode, McCraw tells of an 18-year-old man who came to see him later about getting married, and it was this woman he wanted to marry.  “She grew up with her grandparents, not her own parents,” McCraw explains, “so she didn’t have good role models. She didn’t have a very good self-image.”

First Presbyterian minister Ed Waddill says that in his 31 years in the ministry he hasn’t changed his pre-wedding counseling approach much.

One difference, however, is that while he was pastoring a church in Temple he started giving couples the opportunity to customize their wedding service as long as the basic integrity of the service and the idea of commitment were retained. “It seemed to me that it was a good counseling technique,” Waddill says. “It personalizes the service for them when they have gone through the trouble of writing the service. Not everybody wants to go through that process, but quite a few have.”

Waddill says he doesn’t require lengthy counseling anymore. “When I did require it, it didn’t accomplish much,” he says. “They were just going through the motions. But some people have wanted to come to me because they had particular things they wanted to work out. I do require that they come to me so that we can get acquainted,” he says. “I don’t do quickie marriages. And when they do talk to me it’s been very fruitful.”

As an example of an instance when more counseling was obviously desirable, Waddill recounts the story of “the most traumatic experience” of his career.  “There was a couple in Temple that I was going to marry,” he recalls. “On the night before the wedding they got into a fight in a bar. Three or four others were involved. They all landed up in jail.

“The next day, the mother of the groom came to tell me what had happened. I said, ‘I’m not refusing to have anything to do with the couple, but there are some things we have to talk about first.’ The father of the bride got fighting mad because he had spent a lot of money. I thought he was going to shoot me. That marriage never did take place. I found out later that the groom was an alcoholic and had some drugs, too.”

Many of the couples Waddill counsels are there because they assume it is required of them.  “More than half the time they think it’s important to talk about what they’re going to do,” he says, “but some of the time people are not communicative, which worries me because I wonder if they can communicate with each other. But it’s only a small minority who are that private.”

Most of Waddill’s counseling deals with the same topics Smith and McCraw cover — money, sex, communication, and in-laws.  However, one different topic he mentions is domination.  “Women are particularly interested in talking about that because of the women’s movement,” he says. “They often come into the conversation with some misconceptions about what the service says, especially ‘love, honor and obey’. That’s not in our service; it’s not in the Roman Catholic service; it’s not in the Methodist or Episcopal services. That’s Hollywood.”

Another false quote from the “marriage service” is that business about “if anyone objects, let him speak now or forever hold his peace,” notes Father Ricardo Ruiz of Our Lady of Peace Church.

Father Ruiz, who completes his fourth year as priest on June 13, has been serving Alpine Roman Catholics for two years.  His first church was in El Paso, where he performed about a hundred marriages.  Here, he says, he has performed about twenty.

The pre-marital counseling process is standard throughout the diocese and is comparatively lengthy. “We ask for six months preparation because it takes a long time to prepare spiritually and for all the other aspects of the service,” Ruiz says. “We focus, not on the wedding day, but on the whole marriage. The most important thing in marriage is communication. About half our marriages involve a Catholic and a non-Catholic. Also, some involve coming into a marriage where children are involved.”

For those couples marrying for the first time, the local diocese requires that they spend a weekend at an Engaged Encounter Retreat in Mesilla, New Mexico.  “It’s an intense weekend for the couples, given by other couples, and covers issues of finances, sexuality, problem-solving, and extended family,” says Ruiz.

“As teachers, couples are preferred who have been through some difficulty in their own marriage and successfully overcome it,” Ruiz points out. “Many times the sessions are so intense that a couple might decide during the weekend that they are not right for each other or they might postpone marriage.”

Several Engaged Encounter Retreats are offered each month at the Franciscans’ Holy Cross Retreat House, Ruiz says.  And it is open to other Christian denominations.

Locally, the priest meets with the couple and works through a little booklet, with a test, on FOCUS — Facilitating Open Communication, Understanding and Study.  “It’s interesting — a different dynamic,” says Ruiz. “Depending on how many areas of disagreement there are, it can take two to five sessions.”

Ideally, the retreat should occur last, says Ruiz.  “It’s a peaceful place and helps them put their experience in a spiritual context.”

Another type of pre-marital encounter group, called pre-Cana II, is for couples going into a second marriage or couples with blended families.  “It’s where the couple engages in dialogue with another couple who have gone through the same problems, usually in the couple’s home,” Ruiz explains. “It takes two to five hours and focuses on issues unique to second marriages.”

Still other programs, these designed for the already-marrieds, are Marriage Encounter (similar to the Engaged Encounter), Marriage Enrichment (more like a workshop than a retreat in that it covers practical rather than spiritual concerns), and Retrouvaille (a retreat for couples whose marriages are troubled).

When asked why the Roman Catholic Church requires so much soul-searching, Ruiz replies, “Divorce statistics. It used to be that a couple would meet the priest at the church door and say, ‘Let’s go!”  Also, Ruiz points out, “Some people have the skills necessary for making their marriage work, but they need to be affirmed that they are doing right. Other people need help fine-tuning their skills to prevent bigger problems later.”

As for post-wedding counseling, Ruiz says his involvement depends on the problems a couple might have.  “If they haven’t been married in the church, I give them the FOCUS test, just to focus on issues they haven’t resolved,” he says. “If that doesn’t work, I refer them to a marriage counselor.”

All of the counseling is intended to accomplish one basic purpose: undergirding the marriage.  “I hope to help the couple see that the wedding is important, but it is only a day, and help them focus on marriage as a lifetime commitment,” Ruiz says. “For any commitment, you need to discover the tools and the abilities to maintain and enrich the relationship in good times and bad.”

Waddill notes that a lot of people view the marriage service superficially, as just a matter of saying words.  As a minister, however, he sees it differently.  “I have a responsibility toward God first and the church secondarily,” he says. “I have my ordination to think about. I’m accountable to God and the church for everything I do, including marriage.”

McCraw, too, says he needs “to be sure the tie is tied tight and that each couple has a wholesome Christian ceremony so that it will be something they can look back on and treasure for many years.”

— Alpine Avalanche, June 6, 1996


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The Other Side of the Altar, Part I

“Safe Sex The Old-Fashioned Way”: “Bundling” was a customary way for colonial-era Americans—and many Europeans as well—to allow young sweethearts to get to know each other intimately without going “all the way”. It was not only a way to help ensure a more durable relationship but also a sensible move economically, since the young man often lived several miles distant from his girlfriend and the practice conserved firewood and candles.

PHOTO CREDIT: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.                                                   “Bundling” was a customary way for colonial-era Americans—and many Europeans as well—to allow young sweethearts to get to know each other intimately without going “all the way”. It was not only a way to help ensure a more durable relationship but also a sensible move economically, since the young man often lived several miles distant from his girlfriend and the practice conserved firewood and candles.

How Ministers View Weddings, Monahans

NOTE TO READERS:  Back in March of 1980, when I was the newspaper editor in Monahans, Texas, one of what I consider my most inspired ideas occurred to me. How, I wondered, do ministers prepare engaged couples for their nuptials, and how do they view a wedding in itself as well as marriage?

   To answer those questions, I interviewed several local ministers and received, to me, some surprising responses. It was a very enlightening experience for me and, I hoped, for my readers, although I don’t recall any comments from people out on the streets. But, there was nothing unusual about that: people in that town were rather non-committal around me, afraid that whatever they said would end up in the newspaper. A common expression when I walked into a café or a bar or even the bank was, “Watch what you say; that’s the newspaper man.”

   But, back to the feature article. I was so fond of that piece that when I moved to Alpine a decade later I decided to prepare a similar feature. If anything, the second version was more interesting than the first; not least for the reason that I was able to get the local Catholic priest to accept my request for an interview. (The priest in Monahans in 1980 had put me off by saying he would have to ask the bishop in El Paso for permission; he never got back to me.)

   What I plan on now is re-publishing on my blog the two feature articles: one today, and the second one on January 14.

   Hope you WordPress readers discover something beneficial in at least one of them.

* * * * * *

© 1980, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Is it really possible to be prepared for marriage?

An old adage observes that many a man who would insist upon counting a horse’s teeth before he buys it will yet marry a girl after a brief acquaintance. Erma Bombeck advised that, before tying the knot, a couple should shop for groceries together, see each other in the morning before either has had time so much as to comb their hair, and nurse each other through an illness. (That last test might end up extending the engagement indefinitely if the couple is generally healthy.)

From the days of the Pilgrims’ “bundling beds”, American elders have been trying to find a way of guaranteeing that their children marry wisely. One of the modes tried has been private talks with the minister who will perform the ceremony. While not a perfect method, since the counselor has ordinarily been only one (perforce of a single gender), such consultations seem to be about the nearest to a sensible solution we’ve been able to come up with.

Because of the sanctity of the marriage vows, many ministers require one or more pre-ceremony conversations with engaged couples. However, not all do, and there is great variety in the content of such sessions when they are required. A survey of three local ministers produced some interesting insights into their perspective from the other side of the altar.

Dr. Ed Lang, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Monahans, doesn’t require premarital counseling because he feels that when people are forced into a counseling situation their hearts won’t be in it. Most couples, he said, will do anything to get him to perform the ceremony; and, if counseling is a prerequisite, then so be it.

Lang prefers simply to make himself available for any type of counseling, premarital or otherwise. Also, he pointed out, the very process of preparing for a wedding has three moments when counseling naturally enters: when a couple asks him to marry them, while reviewing the service, and during the rehearsal.

Lang said that other kinds of counseling can be related to premarital counseling. For instance, a person who seeks his help while going through a divorce might return later and ask him to perform the ceremony of a second marriage. (Lang, by the way, insisted he not be quoted directly, i.e., within quotation marks.)

First Baptist Church pastor Charles Inman does require counseling, but he has altered the timing of the sessions for reasons similar to those expressed by Lang. “One of the most frustrating aspects of premarital counseling  is that the couple is not in a very objective state of mind during the engagement period,” he said. “Even if they have discovered some problem area during the engagement period, the commitment to marry is so strong they aren’t very objective.” For that reason Inman has switched from requiring three-to-four prior sessions to two or three plus a commitment from the couple that they will return one more time after six months of married life.

Dr. Lloyd DeLong, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church here, says the number of sessions he requires varies and is determined after the first interview with a couple. However, he expects no fewer than two. He realizes that a couple’s receptivity for counseling is very low at that time, but he believes that a minister must accept their expressed sincerity and have faith that some of the information he imparts to them is bound to sink in.

DeLong starts the first interview usually by discussing the couple’s relationships with their families. Occasionally it happens, he said, that one or both of the young people are having problems in their current homes and are using marriage as an escape.

Other areas DeLong explores are the couple’s educational and religious backgrounds. “If one doesn’t have a high school diploma and the other is going to college, they may have problems,” he said.

As for dissimilar religious backgrounds, DeLong said he has no qualms about intermarriage “as long as love — and more than erotic love — is there.”

DeLong emphasizes that differing religious and educational backgrounds do not necessarily mean a marriage won’t last; but, he said, they could presage problems which the couple will have to resolve.

Both DeLong and Inman cite poor financial management as a more frequent and serious cause of marital failures. Inman even tries to help the couple set up at least a rough sketch of a budget. “I strongly suggest to them that they set up a priority of purchases and then buy only when they both agree to the purchase.”

Inman gives his counselees two brief multiple choice tests as a means of inventorying the couple’s relationship and predicting the success potential of their marriage. One of the tests provides a profile of an engaged person: his or her social, economic and religious background; how he or she views the fiancé(e); what each enjoys doing; how they handle disagreements, etc.

The other test gauges the extent of a person’s knowledge of sex. Inman said he has found that a young man who may have been considered the campus Romeo often fails the sex inventory test, while the quiet type often does very well on it.

Whether the couple takes the inventory or not, Inman gives them a 76-page sex manual called A Doctor’s Marital Guide. “I try to find out the basic attitude the boy or girl has toward sex,” he said. ”My purpose is to correct misconceptions learned in locker rooms and at slumber parties.”

Another aspect of married life Inman stresses is Christian fellowship. He encourages the couple to change the focus of their social life from that of the single person to one of developing friendships with other couples in the church.

After everybody has resolved in their mind that the marriage should take place, the question arises: What kind of service will it be?

Lang said that almost every couple wants to design their own service. He tells them that is fine with him as long as their service is written within a Christian context and they give him sufficient time to learn it. However, in virtually every instance the couple finally opts for the one provided in the Book of Worship, unchanged. Their change of mind results, Lang explained, from their reading the service, which is well-written and no longer contains phrases referring to the woman as the man’s chattel. Both the man and the woman recite the same words.

Inman offers two basic services: one he wrote himself, and one called “the Episcopal Service”. Like Lang, he allows the couple to write their own service “…as long as it is in good taste and within a Christian context. There are two times when a person should be able to plan an activity,” Inman said, “their wedding and their funeral.”

A restriction Inman insists upon, however, is that the photographer remain at the entry of the church. “I don’t want him distracting attention away from the service.”

DeLong’s pet peeve is wedding party members who drank the night before. “If any person in the wedding party shows any indication of drinking, then I withdraw from the service,” DeLong said. “If a person has to build his courage up for marriage by drinking, he’s not ready to get married. Nobody yet has objected.”

As for the service form, DeLong said he allows the couple to make suggestions, and he discusses those with them. “If I think the suggestions are within the tradition of the church, then I allow them,” he said. The service he ordinarily uses is one he made up himself by selecting parts from among six other services.

Lang said he has never refused to perform the ceremony, because of the strong impression made on him by someone close to him who left Christianity altogether after being refused the marriage ceremony by another pastor.

Inman, too, said he has never refused to marry anyone; although he has walked away after completing some services saying to himself, “Boy! That marriage hasn’t got a chance!” And yet, Inman was impressed by the number of marriages he thought would not last a year but have proven stable and the number of marriages he had thought would be 50-year marriages which ended in divorce after a year or two.

DeLong could remember only four occasions during his 25-year ministry when he refused to bind people in matrimony. His refusals in all instances were caused by the attitudes of one or both the persons wishing to get married. “One woman had been married six times,” he recalled, “and the seventh time was to be to a former husband. Their attitude was that if it doesn’t work out this time, they would get a divorce and try again (with someone else).”


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