Tuesday, August 1, 2017



Virtual Living
A poetry collection by

Gary Beck

For Immediate Release
Poet Gary Beck’s new collection Virtual Living is a revealing glimpse of how our relationship with the world around us is an ever-evolving experience. Focusing on how humans relate to the world via artificial means, as well as self-imposed affected mechanisms. Beck looks at the concept of living virtually from all angles and tells his story with just enough abstractness to move readers to choose how to inhabit their own worlds. A peek into our world in ways most of us forget to see, these poems will shift any reader’s perspective of how they relate to others, technology and the world.
Varied, inspiring and insightful - Nous Magazine

We love your poems - Poetry Pacific

“Amazingly captivating and incredibly diverse - Kind of a Hurricane Press
Virtual Living is a 116 page poetry book. Available in paperback with a retail price of $7.99.
ISBN: 1945247134
Published through Thurston Howl Publications. Available now through all major retailers. For  information or to request a review copy, contact: thurstonhowlpub@gmail.com

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1945247134/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497142405&sr=1-1&keywords=virtual+living+gary+beck

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has 11 published chapbooks and 2 more accepted for publication. His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press). Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions,  Fault Lines & Tremors (Winter Goose Publishing). Perturbations, Rude Awakenings and The Remission of Order will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications). Virtual Living (Thurston Howl Publications). His novels include: Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press), Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing), Call to Valor (Gnome on Pigs Productions) and Sudden Conflicts (Lillicat Publishers). State of Rage will be published by Rainy Day Reads Publishing. His short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). Now I Accuse and other stories will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.


Thurston Howl Publications (THP) represents creativity, originality, and evocation. We hope to provide a home for authors, readers, and artists alike. As the THP family grows every day, we progress a bit further. For further information go to: www.thurstonhowlpublications.com/

Friday, July 28, 2017


JD DeHart

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Theater Musings
Cassandra, in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon
A character study for directors and actors






by






Gary Beck
312 East 30th Street, #5E
New York, NY 10016
212 481-8220







©  2016



Cassandra is a minor, but vital character in Aeschylus’ drama, Agamemnon. She informs the audience of the forthcoming death of Agamemnon, as well as herself, precipitating the action to come. Presumably the audience knows what’s coming, since it is a tragedy. The challenge to the director is to make the prophecy of imminent death theatrically dramatic to an audience visually saturated by the incredibly sophisticated imagery of film and tv.
In order to construct the emotional involvement of the audience in a scene that is critically important, Cassandra must compel a range of feelings. This can be facilitated by the chorus, who can express qualities of scorn, derision, mockery, pity, for the possessed woman. The actor, by creating tension before, during and after prophecy, completes the stage requirements for furthering the action.
The source of developing the depth of character necessary for Cassandra to evoke tragic awareness is in the pre-history of the Iliad and the myth of the House of Atreus. The director and actor should presuppose that the audience may be familiar with the tale of Troy, and possibly even the play itself. They should assume the audience will not know the myth of Apollo and Cassandra, which could be the key to initiating the foundation of constructing the character. Cassandra, a young royal princess (12-14?) of the house of Priam of Troy, is desired by the god Apollo. She agrees to have sex with him, if he’ll give her the gift of Prophecy. He does. Then she mocks him and refuses to keep her part of the bargain. He can’t take back his gift, so he curses her with not being believed.
This is where the actor’s work begins. This once privileged personage is now an embarrassment, a demented creature, possessed of madness, yet still a beloved member of the royal house. All these qualities must be examined and included in the character. The curse began before the Trojan War, which lasted for ten years, followed by the capture and destruction of the city. Then Cassandra was awarded as a slave to Agamemnon and presumably was his bedmate during their return to Argos. By building the character’s emotional life for at least ten years before she comes on stage, the actor may arrive with a three dimensional persona that will stir the audience’s emotion.
The exploration of pre-character should not be a day to day diary, or a chronicle. There should be some invented salient facts or experiences that will lead to the tormented emotional state of a character alienated from the world around her. It is vital to understand that Cassandra has been disbelieved many times. She has probably been treated as a privileged, demented member of the royal household, yet was considered harmless.
Cassandra surely prophesized the fall of Troy, which largely had to have been laughed at. The inner torment at being mocked and pitied would be a constant. It is useful to be aware that prophecy is a ‘divine’ gift, not an act of reason, therefore, the prophet will be possessed/transformed, while in a state of inspiration.
A physical transformation when in the state of prophecy must be carefully created so as not to be contrived, grotesque, silly, etc. Any implausible quality that might make the character unbelievable to the audience must be eliminated. The complication for the director is how to get the chorus, whatever format to use them is selected, to sustain disbelief in the prophecy, despite the fact that the audience knows it’s true. Since the curse of disbelief is on Cassandra, she must be convincing, or the scene will be contrived and the audience involvement with the play will deflate.

Of course very few actors will have the opportunity to play Cassandra, at least in a serious theater setting. Yet the same general outline of character development can be applicable to other roles. Create who you are, then you will be, of course pre-supposing you have the talent and skills to be.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Agent Orange Echoes Quietly in Rural America
——————————————————————-
A Man of No Words


Virgil comes to group therapy every week in his pick-up truck with his dog, Buster, standing in the bed of the truck. The sessions are held for veterans of Korea and Vietnam. Quite a few veterans in this small town because not many males applied for deferments back then to go to college. Money for college wasn’t available and this is, after all, a farming community. In one way or another people here earn their living from the fertile land.

This week as usual Virgil gets out of his truck, flicks a cigarette away and goes in the center. He leaves Buster as usual standing untethered in the back of the truck. Not many Dalmatians around here but Virgil got him somewhere as a pup and for the last six years Buster has been coming with him to therapy once a week. 

People in town think Buster is the best-behaved dog they have ever seen. He remains standing in the back of the truck in driving rain, heavy snow and even while a squirrel or two cavort tantalizingly on the ground nearby. The dog seems oblivious to distractions while he waits for Virgil to return. 

Other vets in the group feel sorry for the dog in bad weather but talking to Virgil about anything doesn't work. Over the years he has never sought nor offered comments or advice. He is a man of no words.

Every week on therapy day Virgil enters the therapy room before the session starts, looks around like he’s casing the place for interlopers, turns around and walks out. Then he goes into another room and basically repeats the performance. 

In that room are women waiting to begin group therapy for domestic abuse. Virgil gives them the creeps, they admit, but he leaves the room as quickly as he comes in. He has never said nor done anything untoward.

His next stop is the table in the hallway where his best friend, Mr. Coffee, waits. He likes his black with lots of sugar. 

Next Virgil heads for the room where some men play pool before therapy starts. Over in the corner there’s always a serious game of poker in progress. 

Neither the pool players nor the card players look at Virgil anymore. He sips his coffee, looks around the room carefully, turns and leaves.  

When the staff serves lunch, Virgil goes to the dining room, leans against the wall and watches the people eat. He has never sat down to eat. 

Folks new at the center have complained about him and have been told by the regulars that Virgil is harmless but not quite right since he came back from Vietnam. It helps when they mention that he was All-State in football for the local high school before Vietnam but that was a long time ago. He didn’t go to college when he came back although a football scholarship was waiting for him.

Virgil steps outside the center every now and then, has a cigarette, sometimes two, and says hello to his dog. Then he comes back and watches the pool players again, mostly old-timers who are veterans from Korea. They don’t know Virgil was a pool shark of sorts but that was before Vietnam. Although he was in high school at the time, he used to beat many of the men. He hasn’t played pool since Vietnam. 

In fact, Virgil hasn’t done much of anything since coming back except come to group therapy once a week.

During therapy, he sits in his chair for an hour, says nothing and looks around. Any time a new person is introduced he’s obviously concerned.

In the past, a few Korean vets have tried to engage Virgil in conversation but he says nothing but his name, rank and serial number. The men mean well but they came back from Korea where there was no Agent Orange. Monsanto and Dow did not provide any spray in Korea. Korea was bad for many reasons but it had nothing to do with Agent Orange, which still echoes today in veterans all over America and in the people of Vietnam. 

The Vietnam vets don’t bother Virgil. They just advise any well-meaning vet from Korea to let Virgil be Virgil. If they want to help him, they suggest they make certain Mr. Coffee is ready when Virgil arrives. He asks for nothing more. 

Every veteran in the group has his own coffee mug with his name on it. 

Virgil’s mug has no name—just a big navel orange.


Donal Mahoney


A Writer Who Writes Not Knowing Why
That my parents were Irish immigrants is probably the most significant factor in my writing life. The English expelled my father from Ireland around 1920 at age 18 or so for running guns for the IRA. My mother was an illegal immigrant who somehow got on a different ship around the same time and ended up in Harlem. Nice people took her to her cousin’s place elsewhere in New York. She too was 18. The year may have been 1924. Hunger motivated her to leave.

Words were everything in the home I was raised in. Words flew around the house at times like butterflies; other times like missiles. My father launched most of them. My mother said little.

Most fathers in that immigrant South Side Chicago neighborhood, if asked by a son about a trip to the zoo, might have answered yes or no. My father always said "perhaps" to any question like that. 

I think “perhaps” is the first word that sent me to the dictionary. I have spent most of my life looking up words, for years in dictionaries and now online. I think “diarrhea” is a beautiful word to hear and look at in print so that might offer a hint as to how odd in some ways I am. 

Other kids went to the zoo during summer vacations.  My father took me to the stockyards instead so we could tour the slaughterhouses. 

We watched cattle and hogs being slaughtered. No one was allowed to watch the sheep being killed. But my father made sure I saw the Judas goat lead the sheep into the slaughterhouse. I was not shocked by any of this. In fact, I enjoyed it because my father had often talked about slaughtering livestock as an adolescent in Ireland. I wanted to grow up to be rough, tough and hard to bluff like him.

My father could use any tool to fix almost anything. I could fix nothing with or without any tool. Words were the only tools I had. I kept them in an invisible quiver and kept buying bigger quivers. 

The first thing I ever wrote or tried to write occurred early in grammar school, perhaps in fifth grade, circa 1948. I sat with a pencil and pad of paper in front of an RCA console radio listening to Sunday afternoon dramas. The main and only character in my unfinished “novel" was Yukoa, an Indian living in Alaska. Can’t recall how much I wrote but I enjoyed doing it. 

There were no computers, of course, back in the Fifties when I started writing on my own apart from school requirements. I'd jot down phrases for poems that came into my mind on scraps of paper and I'd stuff the scraps in my pockets. 

I had to wear a suit and tie to work as a young editor in the Sixties, even though I have a blue-collar mentality. I could do white-collar work but I really didn’t fit in with those with a similar education. I had no interest in business despite giving it a try. But I had to make money. 

Five children were born between August 1962 and March 1968. Yes, I was Catholic, having spent 19 consecutive years in Catholic schools without ever being tempted to be a priest. I was always a Believin' but Misbehavin' Roman C, a phrase I have often thought would make a good Country and Western song. 

I took a couple of degrees in English because I knew the intricacies of the language coming out of elementary school thanks to a nun in eighth grade. She made me diagram 30 sentences a night for rolling marbles down the aisle. I learned grammar that way. After I got a master’s degree I tried to find her and thank her but she was already in a home. Teaching the kids of immigrants was no easy task. 

When I'd get enough scraps of paper with lines for potential poems in my pockets, I'd type them out, one to a sheet. I'd come back to those sheets and keep adding more words and lines until I had a first draft. Then, I'd revise each draft a zillion times and go through all kinds of Eaton’s Corrasable bond typing paper to do so. 

Before Eaton’s became available, I was a big buyer of White Out to erase my typing mistakes. Now I just sit behind a Macintosh computer and hit the delete key.  

When I was young, James Wright knocked me over with his "Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota." The last line floored me and I was hooked. Here's the poem if the link still works: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177229 

In the late '60s and early '70s, when I still lived in Chicago, I began submitting to "small magazines" in Ireland. There I had the company of another young writer named Seamus Heaney. Even then I knew he was light years better than the rest of us. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I wasn’t at all surprised. The man put down words like a bricklayer, nothing misaligned. And yet he had a music all his own.

I was asked once to list words that might capture my personality. I settled for excitable, competitive, intuitive, obsessive and empathic.
Nine years ago I returned to the Roman Catholic Church after a 40-year hiatus. Though I was never "holy," theology and philosophy have always fascinated me. Even during the years I was misbehaving, I always believed in God. Faith is a gift, of course, and for some reason God let me keep it till I wandered back home. 

I have probably 1,000 or more poems, short stories and essays at various sites online. We moved recently and my wife found quite a few little magazines from the late Sixties and early Seventies containing what a scholar might call my juvenilia. I had only poems appear in print back then—perhaps a hundred or so sent out methodically with a self-addressed envelope. It would often take months to get a response and rejections far outnumbered acceptances. 

I did not start writing fiction and essays until an editor in 2010 told me that a poem I had submitted would work better as a short story so I gave fiction a try. Writing fiction and non-fiction turned out to be a whole new experience. 

For me trying to write poetry is far different from trying to write prose. 

Poems of mine almost always begin with a word or phrase or line that simply comes into my mind, often while shaving or doing something else when my mind is empty. 

Fiction usually begins with an attempt at a poem that doesn’t work as a poem, and nonfiction often begins with fiction based on fact that won’t work as a story so I have to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. 

I have found poems harder to finish than fiction or non-fiction. I “hear” the first draft of many poems, take dictation and then revise and revise. 

Prose requires that I think and then write. I “feel” nothing in the process of writing prose. 

Because of working on deadline as an editor of different publications, I quit all personal writing between 1972 and 2008. When I retired, my wife bought me a computer as a gift and showed me in the basement cardboard boxes of unfinished poems gathering dust since 1972. I have not stopped writing since. It’s a great prophylactic for the prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, at least for me.

I write at least three shifts a day of at least three hours each. I write and revise and revise and revise, finally admit to myself that I can make it no better and send out the work. The reception by people who don’t know me has been gratifying but I don’t write for others. I write for myself. 

I forget the name of the famous poet who said that a poem is never finished, simply abandoned. I agree completely with that idea and apply it as well to fiction and non-fiction. 

My wife spent many years taking photographs, professionally and creatively. I have never lacked ideas for something to write but if that ever happens I might give poems to her and have her match them with photos and see if a publishable book might result.  That combination appears online a lot but I don't know if books have begun to use it. Could be interesting but it sounds like work. Since I worked as an editor most of my life, I try now to avoid work. Writing my own stuff isn't work.

I don’t have any advice for young writers except to revise and revise, let the piece marinate over night, and revise it again in the morning. 

Send it out when you can do nothing more and you think it has merit maybe only you will appreciate. 

Writing is a wonderful obsession that doesn’t make one a drunkard or the parent of illegitimate children. If one has the skill it is worth pursuing.


Donal Mahoney

Friday, April 7, 2017

Hubert Might Go Upstairs But Not To Rome

Tea in the afternoon with his wife of many years is usually peaceful, Hubert thinks before he makes his announcement. Then he says it. 

"I'm going upstairs," Hubert tells Ruth as he hoists himself out of his old recliner, "and if I don't ever come back down it's because you want to fly to Rome before we die so we can meet Pope Francis. Fat chance of that happening! You think the pope takes walks in St. Peter's Square?"

"Well, why shouldn't we go," Ruth says. "We may be old but we're still healthy and seeing Rome might be nice. Pope Francis seems like a pretty nice guy."

"Getting old is bad enough," Hubert says, "but why complicate matters with a trip to Rome? We'd have to pull out visas and passports and we'd have TSA agents--total strangers--patting us down in nooks reserved for a doctor or spouse. Besides, Pope Francis might be busy."

"Well, I'd still like to go," Ruth mumbles, none too happy with her husband's lack of enthusiasm. "If I wanted to go to Minnesota and fish for northern pike, you'd be packed, sitting in the car and gunning the motor. Why not do something interesting while we still have time? We'll be dead long enough."

Hubert suddenly has another idea, one he hopes Ruth will buy into. 

"Why not let me die first and then you and the ladies from the garden club can go to Rome on that certificate of deposit we let sit in the bank all these years, the one I should have cashed in and invested in that electric car company, Tesla

"That CD is big enough to take you and five ladies to Rome and back home again. They'd probably like to see Pope Francis as well. Fat chance of that. Unless you want to stand with thousands of others on a Wednesday morning when he speaks from the balcony. Better take binoculars."

Hubert is on a roll now, explaining to Ruth that she and the ladies will have a great time touring gothic churches and eating the finest pasta in the world once he's in the ground looking up but unable to see the sky

"Once I'm dead, Ruth, you won't have to worry about me being grumpy on the trip. I'll be in the family graveyard stretched out between your Uncle Elmer and your Uncle Vince. Right now those two fine farmers are staring at the sky and bookending the plot your father allotted to me once the poor man realized I was actually going to be his son-in-law."

When Hubert first met Ruth's father many decades ago--fresh off the plane from Chicago, in a suit and tie no less--her father had bounced Hubert over many a country road to show him the plot in the family graveyard reserved in case Ruth married someone eventually. She hadn't married young because as a professional photographer working for National Geographic she had traveled all over the world and preferred taking photos to marrying any of the men she had met. Then she met Hubert in Chicago and decided to settle down. 

Taking Hubert home to meet her extended family of farmers, however, had not been easy for either of them. And not easy for her family either. They had hoped Ruth would marry one day, preferably a farmer with lots of acreage, not some editor from a big city and certainly not someone like Hubert who couldn't tell a Holstein cow from a Guernsey.

No matter how much Ruth talked about the delights of a trip to Rome, Hubert still didn't have much interest in going, with or without the rare possibility of meeting Pope Francis. 

Hubert liked Pope Francis because the media kept hoping the pope would change some things in the Catholic Church but the things the media hoped he would change no pope could ever change. It would be like saying the color red is blue which can never be true. 

Pope Francis, Hubert knew, was an old Jesuit, theologically sound and skilled in  handling the media. What's more he had the capacity to rile both conservative and liberal Catholics at the same time. And it was always interesting to see him pop up on the nightly news. Anchors not too well acquainted with matters Catholic would sometimes offer commentary far off the mark. 

"Ruth, you and I are the only family left, except for the kids and they're doing fine working in the big city, several big cities, in fact, as your father would have called them.  And although the grim reaper isn't waving his scythe and ringing our doorbell yet, I still think you should let me die first and then you and the garden gals can go to Rome. When you get back you can plant sunflowers around my headstone to give the squirrels something to gnaw on in the many hot summers to come."

"Well," Ruth said, "if you had a terminal disease, I might not mind the wait. Why don't we go out for dinner now and we can talk about all this later. I'm hungry."

"Okay," Hubert said, "but I hear the pike are hitting the lures pretty hard up in Minnesota. And I think there's a new bishop in charge. We could go to the cathedral for Mass. Maybe you and the new bishop could have a chat. Some day he might become pope. One of these days an American has to get that job. Can you imagine listening to the News at 10 when that happens."

Ruth agreed to go to a Thai restaurant that evening, a place she had never gone to in the past. It was a tiny place where immigrants from Thailand liked to eat. She knew the food would be too spicy for her but that Hubert would love it. 

Eating Thai food was the start of her new campaign to win Hubert over to making that trip to Rome--following a fishing trip to Minnesota, of course. Ruth planned on asking that new bishop to drop a note to Pope Francis to let him know she and Hubert would be coming to visit. She thought it was only right to give him time to adjust his schedule. She was planning on giving him a big batch of her fudge--and a small batch to Hubert to eat on the plane.  


Donal Mahoney

Imperfect Storm Ends in a Rainbow


In 1958 Elmer's was the only high school in his county that had been integrated. Basketball was the big sport. People in the little town filled the gym every Tuesday and Friday. They roared when the home team scored and they booed when the visiting team fouled one of their players. But before and after every game the town was rife with racial tension. 

Some folks were neutral about integration, figuring its time had come. Others were adamantly opposed. Hard to say, even in retrospect, if anyone, black or white, was in favor of it. If someone thought it was a good idea, no one said anything. But at every basketball game, people got along, whatever their color. Points mattered and wins mattered. And in 1958 this small school had a very good team. Some might say the team was good in part because of integration. 

In fact, the school had its first team ever with a realistic hope of going to the state tournament. And when the team did, there was even more hoopla among the people of the town. 

To this day many people believe that if their star player had not torn his knee in the first game, the team might have gone deep in the tournament. 

The local newspaper said the team was good enough to win it, which helped, of course, to sell a lot of papers. Even though the team didn’t win the championship, the effort brought the town together. The racial talk largely subsided and hasn’t risen since except out of the mouths of a few who are upset about other things as well. 

Change of any kind bothers people, some more than others.

But at every reunion of the class of 1958, that team dominates the conversation. And no one knows that better than Elmer.

It doesn't matter now that racial strife in 1958 kept Elmer and his classmates from taking a senior trip. They’re over that and the ones who are still alive simply enjoy getting together at the Elk’s Club Lodge and reminiscing about the good times while feasting on fine food. They talk about their lives, the classmates who have died and, of course, their team.

It doesn't matter either that every teacher they had back then passed away long ago, teachers they remember fondly and teachers they remember not so fondly. They know those teachers made a difference in their lives and they appreciate them now far more than they did back then. 

It doesn't even matter that the building where they went to school no longer stands or that their school system long ago was absorbed by a larger system. But everyone in their town and surrounding towns remembers the name of their school because of its being the first to be integrated and because of its basketball team in 1958.

Because of that team, Elmer and his classmates, black and white, never lack for conversation at a reunion. 

Just ask the black guy, the tallest one in the room, what might have happened if he had not hurt his knee in that game. Elmer will be happy to tell you he and all his classmates think their team would have won that championship, the only team in the tournament that year with a black kid playing, grabbing rebounds and just before he hurt his knee executing a monster dunk not often seen back then.

Elmer doesn’t have problems with his knee now. A surgeon in another town operated on him in 1958 and the town held three barbecues that summer to pay for the operation.

Elmer received a scholarship to a good university and starred on the team for three years. Then he went to dental school. And just a few years back he retired from his dental practice in his home town. He had more white patients than black because more white folks live there. 

Now just about everybody in town gets along despite the big change in 1958. Sometimes people are better off in the long run whether they like change when it happens or not.  

Elmer will be the first to tell you he’s not the only one who benefited from integration. His town, his school, his team and his patients for 40 years benefited as well. They were all part of an imperfect storm that ended in a rainbow. 


Donal Mahoney

Thursday, March 2, 2017

An Uppercut I Remember

Dad hit me only once, an upper cut to the solar plexus. It nearly lifted me off my feet. I was 17 then and already fairly tall, 6’1.” He was 48 and of medium height, 5’8,” a fireplug who if provoked could whirl like a dervish if you can picture that. 

He had been a prisoner of war in Ireland and then became a boxer in the United States after the English expelled him from Ireland around 1920. 

Fortunately, he caught on with the Commonwealth Edison Company in Chicago and worked there as a trouble-shooting electrician for almost 40 years. 

One day he reached over a hot wire too fast to save a rookie from experiencing a shock of 12,000 volts. He took the volts instead and that crippled one arm and brought about an early retirement. While recovering, he seemed more concerned about ruining his accident-free record. 

But I’m getting years ahead of myself. I’m talking now about the day 30 years previous when he caught me with that uppercut in the dining room. 

What had I done, you might ask? 

Well, in the ignorance of youth, I had hidden an open jar of catfish stink bait between the cushions of the living room couch where I knew my father would sit to talk with my friends, all of us just home from high school. 

He liked to talk with them and they with him.

In no time at all, the stench from the catfish bait filled the living room and he stopped talking and started looking around in a rather menacing way. 

I had thought he would laugh because 10 years earlier he had told me, when I was perhaps in the second grade, about the time he and a fellow worker, Oscar Bergman, another electrician, had been making the rounds in their Trouble Truck, as it was called, in the alleys of Chicago. They would stop as required to take turns climbing poles to get the electricity back on after a strong summer storm. 

As the saying goes, it was 100 in the shade and not much shade was available that day in the alleys. 

Apparently it was Oscar’s turn to climb the next pole and while he was up there, my father flattened a patty of horse dung he had found in the alley. He put it in the pocket of a jacket Oscar had left on the back shelf of the cab of the truck, a jacket Oscar had worn in springtime. 

Horse dung in Chicago’s alleys was common in the 1940s. Vegetable vendors would ride up and down in horse-drawn carts hawking their produce, all of it fresh from one of the farms on the outskirts of the city. 

But on this day when Oscar got back in the truck he yelled something to my father who was then climbing the next pole. 

“Joe, there’s a helluva stench in the cab of the truck.” 

Oscar had a very thick Swedish accent, as thick as my father’s Irish brogue, and as a young child I had a chance to hear them converse when my father brought Oscar over to the house. They had become close friends, different as they were, and the music of their two accents was wonderful to hear. They communicated with gusto. 

Oscar’s remark about the stench from the dung patty, however, has remained with me all these years: 

“Joe, there’s a helluva stench in the cab of the truck.”

In childhood I said it over and over with more relish, I’m afraid, than a nighttime prayer I had been asked to memorize. I think it is still a prayer taught by some parents. It was called “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” 

In any event 10 years later when my father found the stink bait I had hidden in the couch, he didn’t find my trick as funny as the one he had played on Oscar Bergman. 

No doubt he was embarrassed in front of my friends who I had told about the set-up in advance. No doubt they were smiling if not stifling a laugh. 

I ran out of the living room as soon as I saw my father leap off the couch. He caught me in the dining room and delivered that uppercut. 

Decades later now there are times when I can still feel that punch although he didn’t turn his fist when it sunk into me. I always wondered why he failed to do so.

When I had gotten eyeglasses for myopia in third grade, he had taken me down the basement to teach me how to defend myself based on skills he had learned as a boxer. 

Showing me how to fake with my left and deliver my right, he told me that if I ever got in a fight to turn my fist each time I landed a punch. Telling that to a third-grader was a remarkable event in itself. But I remember it to this day. 

I listened to my father all through childhood and also watched what he did. Like many children fortunate enough to have a father in the home, I learned good things and bad things that way. 

It turned out at school that he was right about other boys bugging me about my new glasses. Three fights in three days, all of them broken up by the nun in charge of the playground during recess. 

But the day my father got me with the uppercut in the dining room, I didn’t cry and I didn’t flinch, just leaned back against the wall. To cry would have been bad form for the first-born son of an Irish immigrant. 

Crying wasn’t an acceptable response to physical pain in the house I was raised in. No doubt that was because my father had endured much physical and emotional pain throughout his life, especially in that British prison in Ireland where the guards broke both his legs with rifle butts and then let him sit on the cell floor for quite some time without medical attention.

So I kept my mouth shut and watched him walk away. First time I ever saw him with his head down. 

He was obviously ashamed and embarrassed that he had hit me, something he had never done before or after in spite of infractions I would have thought far worse. 

I did well in school, which saved me in his eyes, but I was far less than a well-behaved child. 

I learned a couple of things, however, from that uppercut, one of them funny and the other quite important later on in life as an adult. 

The funny thing was I kept thinking how lucky Oscar Bergman was to escape with just a horse-dung patty hidden in the pocket of his jacket. 

But later in life, memories of the uppercut reminded me never to strike any of my five kids, whatever the problem. Looking back, that is something I am happy never to have done. 

I can tell you, though, some of my children's mischievous deeds were far worse, I thought at the time, than hiding stink bait between the cushions of a living room couch. And those are stories dear to my heart I hope someday to write. 

Who knows what my kids might think if they happen to read them, especially those of them still in the throes of raising children of their own.


Donal Mahoney