28 August 2010

UCLA PostScript

Johnny once asked me to write, in these memoirs, about 'zany' things.

Trouble is, there are too many of these that I am not going to write about - at least not published on the web - perhaps for shame, perhaps, in some cases, for fear of the consequences...

But before I leave UCLA behind completely, I suppose there were a few things that might be classified by Johnny as 'zany' - like:
  • one beautiful moonlit night we went up onto the roof of our dormitory, the ten-story Dykstra Hall, made enormous paper aeroplanes by taping sheets of newspaper together, and sailed them down to 'frat row.'  It was a heavenly sight, seeing them float down in the clear air.  It was less heavenly when, the next day, we were (identified by whom?  I don't recall) nabbed and made to go clean them all up.
  • the time Mike Raugh climbed up on the outside of the building from the 7th floor (the highest men's floor) to the 8th floor (the lowest women's floor), intending to climb through the window into the foyer by the lifts.  The dorm warden came out, saw him from the car park, and just about had a heart attack.  Mike did, indeed, climb into the women's foyer, and went down the lift - this being the safest way of getting him off the ledge!  Recriminations followed :-)
  • the time we found, by accident, that slapping the incandescent light bulb over the study desk in your room made it turn much brighter!  After helping a few mates brighten their lights, we then worked out why the bulbs burnt out after a quarter of an hour or so - tungsten filaments burn quite well if a little oxygen is let into the bulb.  After that, we managed to 'help' several victims, before the word got around that if I or my friends showed up at your door, lock the door!  It also wasn't very long before the same (suffering) house warden began to wonder why there were so many requests for replacement light bulbs (yes, he caught us, eventually, and threatened to make us pay).
My real farewell to UCLA, however, involved Lowell Wood, mentioned in an earlier post.  Lowell was a senior when I was a freshman.  For some reason, he took a liking to me, introduced me to my first computer programming experience, and when my final exam schedule for the spring semester, 1961, turned out to have all but one of my exams bunched into the first three days - and then nothing for a week and a half - invited me to spend a week-end evening at his parents' house in Simi Valley.

What I remember of that week-end was the mountain lion.

There was, Lowell said, some company's site near his house where rocket engines were tested - and he had found that a test was scheduled for that evening.  How cool would it be to try and see it??!!

Only difficulty, if course, is that they don't exactly invited casual observers.  But Lowell told me that he knew of a back way that we could use.  We could climb up on a cliff overlooking the place and see the test - he had done it before.  Was I game?

OK, I don't need to answer that :-)

Simi Valley is in desert country.  We drove quite a distance, the last bits of it, I think, on a dirt road.  When we got out, it was dusk and getting chilly - I wished I had worn a jacket or something.  The details have grown a little hazy in almost fifty years, but I remember we got to a place where there was a fairly high rock face - and a narrow cleft in the rock.  Up that, and - just as Lowell had said - we are on a ledge overlooking the installation.  Over there, Lowell says, is the frame they anchor the rocket motor to.

We wait ... and wait ... and it gets dark.  Lights come on around the place.  Finally it is clear that, as Lowell surmised, they have postponed the test.  It won't happen tonight.  Oh, well, let's go home.

Back down the cleft, Lowell in front.  Lowell in front, and then Lowell stops.  Johnny (as I was still called then) behind - "what's up?  Why have you stopped?"

Lowell: "there's something down there."

Johnny: "what?"

Lowell (hesitating): "it's a mountain lion."


Back to the ledge.  And - clearly - neither of us is brave enough to go down, in the dark, with a cougar at bottom.

It turns out to be possible to climb down from the ledge - inside the fence rocket place (I think it is the Santa Susan Field Laboratory, with the test being done by Rocketdyne).

Trying to walk out casually, inconspicuously, past the guard gate does not work.  We are taken into an office.  We explain what we are doing there.  A guy comes in with what I suppose is a Geiger counter, runs a wand over the soles of our shoes, and says, "they're clean" - Lowell's response, "what could we have done to get dirty" doesn't draw any response from the guards - perhaps they don't see the joke :-)

Lowell's father is called and he has to come out to identify us.  We are let go, about 10PM.  No consequences, except that Lowell's father is definitely not amused.

That was the closest I have ever got to a mountain lion - and I didn't even get to see it.

I have already been told I am admitted to University of California, Berkeley - roughly, to me at the time, like being told I was eligible to go to Heaven.  I go home, after my last exam, work night shift in the local Stokley-Van Camp (long since swallowed by PepsiCo) fruit salad cannery that summer, and in September, 1961 am off, driven by David Bennum, my high school best friend, to Berkeley.

22 August 2010

UCLA - goodbye!

I spent only one year at UCLA.  It was, nevertheless, of some importance to me as it settled me in as a University student.  I was, I thought, going to be an astronomer.  This had been my intention from primary school.  Nevertheless, I was fascinated by language.  A University of California PhD at the time had a language requirement: either three semesters of one language, or two semesters each of two.

I had done four years of high school French.  I found that I could substitute that as a prerequisite for first-semester French, so I took the second semester of French, believing - incorrectly, I am sure - that taking one semester of French, even at a more advance level, would satisfy the two semesters requirement for one language, and I studied Russian both semesters of my first year.

It is interesting that I chose Russian.  Russian is not particularly important for astronomy.  German would surely have been of more use.  This reflects something of the atmosphere of that time.  America had been at war - a cold war, to be sure, but a war nonetheless - with Russia - with the Soviet Union, to be more accurate - since the end of the Second World War.  I think it not surprising that I studied Russian.  In the 1950s we were presented with a great many articles in magazines like Life about the superiority of Russian education, medicine, and other arts.  Robert Heinlein, in at least one novel (Farnham's Freehold), has his protagonist learn Russian.  So I studied Russian in addition to French.

Some time during that academic year - September, 1960 - May, 1961 - I applied to be admitted as an astronomy undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, and was accepted.

16 August 2010


I have read in books about a person's having a dream that is very vivid, and whose memory stays with the person, for a long time - years, or even for life - but so far as I know the experience is rare. At least I don't think anyone has ever told me of long-remembered vivid dreams.

I have had one dream in my life that was very vivid and has stayed with me.  It occurred in 1973 or 1974 and has had a significant place in my thoughts - at least, I have brooded about its meaning on and off for over thirty-five years.  When I was on retreat this week-end just past, I meditated on it during prayer.  The dream was rather more of a nightmare, and it is with some reluctance that I have decided to try to describe it.  Yet I think it possible that, for me, at least, it may shed some light on ... well, you will see what, if any, light comes from it:

Susan and I are walking up a street - an 'avenue', in fact - a road lined with trees on both sides, though not straight - curving uphill.  We are, I know with dream knowledge, in Honolulu, on one of those roads up a gorge in the pali behind the city - not the Pali Highway itself, but it is associated with it in my mind.  There are large, fairly grand, houses on both sides.  It is afternoon - very peaceful, idyllic, a park-like atmosphere - but the light is dim, because of the trees.
 It is peaceful, but somehow I myself am a little uneasy.  I am unsure what we are doing there, where we are, where we are going.
In dreams, transitions are not always clear - or perhaps, over the years since I dreamt this, I have forgotten - but now we have left the road.  We have gone up a drive to one of the mansions.  But now we are lost.
Lost, and terrified.  Are we separated from one another?  I think so.  I - or we - are now wandering anxiously in bush.  I am very much afraid.  There are ... persons, though I am not sure they are human ... out here, living in houses on stilts.
And I know, with dream knowledge, that what we think of as ordered, ordinary life is only an artificially-maintained fiction, a kind of clearing in the midst of chaos - fated ultimately to be engulfed in the un-being of surrounding reality.
Told baldly, I am puzzled at the power that dream had on me.  I awoke, and was terrified.  Is this what life is really like?  Are order, meaning, love only stories we tell one another to keep away the surrounding Dark?  Susan will remember my talking with her about the dream at some length.

This is the dreadful image of "Professor Weston's" rind in C. S. Lewis's Perelandra:

“It's all true, you know,” he said at last.

“What's all true?” said Ransom.

Suddenly Weston turned on him with a snarl of rage. “It's all very well for you,” he said. “Drowning doesn't hurt and death is bound to come anyway, and all that nonsense. What do you know about death? It's all true, I tell you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I've been stuffing myself up with a lot of nonsense all my life,” said Weston. “Trying to persuade myself that it matters what happens to the human race . . . trying to believe that anything you can do will make the universe bearable. It's all rot, do you see?”

“And something else is truer!”

“Yes,” said Weston, and then was silent for a long time.

“We'd better turn our fishes head on to this,” said Ransom presently, his eyes on the sea, “or we'll be driven apart.” Weston obeyed without seeming to notice what he did, and for a time the two men were riding very slowly side by side. “I'll tell you what's true,” said Weston presently.


“A little child that creeps upstairs when nobody's looking and very slowly turns the handle to take one peep into the room where its grandmother's dead body is laid out - and then runs away and has bad dreams. An enormous grandmother, you understand.”

“What do you mean by saying that's truer?”

“I mean that child knows something about the universe which all science and all religion is trying to hide.” Ransom said nothing.

“Lots of things,” said Weston presently. “Children are afraid to go through a churchyard at night, and the grown-ups tell them not to be silly: but the children know better than the grown-ups. People in Central Africa doing beastly things with masks on in the middle of the night - and missionaries and civil servants say it's all superstition. Well, the blacks know more about the universe than the white people. Dirty priests in back streets in Dublin frightening half-witted children to death with stories about it. You'd say they are unenlightened. They're not: except that they think there is a way of escape. There isn't. That is the real universe, always has been, always will be. That's what it all means.”

“I'm not quite clear--” began Ransom, when Weston interrupted him.

“That's why it's so important to live as long as you can. All the good things are now - a thin little rind of what we call life, put on for show, and then-the real universe forever and ever. To thicken the rind by one centimetre - to live one week, one day, one half hour longer - that's the only thing that matters. Of course you don't know it: but every man who is waiting to be hanged knows it. You say ‘What difference does a short reprieve make?’ What difference!!”

“But nobody need go there,” said Ransom.

“I know that's what you believe,” said Weston. “But you're wrong. It's only a small parcel of civilised people who think that. Humanity as a whole knows better. It knows - Homer knew - that all the dead have sunk down into the inner darkness: under the rind. All witless, all twittering, gibbering, decaying. Bogeymen. Every savage knows that all ghosts hate the living who are still enjoying the rind: just as old women hate girls who still have their good looks. It's quite right to be afraid of the ghosts. You're going to be one all the same.”

“You don't believe in God,” said Ransom.
“Well, now, that's another point,” said Weston. “I've been to church as well as you when I was a boy. There's more sense in parts of the Bible than you religious people know. Doesn't it say He's the God of the living, not of the dead? That's just it. Perhaps your God does exist - but it makes no difference whether He does or not. No, of course you wouldn't see it; but one day you will. I don't think you've got the idea of the rind - the thin outer skin which we call life really clear. Picture the universe as an infinite globe with this very thin crust on the outside. But remember its thickness is a thickness of time. It's about seventy years thick in the best places. We are born on the surface of it and all our lives we are sinking through it. When we've got all the way through then we are what's called Dead: we've got into the dark part inside, the real globe. If your God exists, He's not in the globe - He's outside, like a moon. As we pass into the interior we pass out of His ken. He doesn't follow us in. You would express it by saying He's not in time - which you think comforting! In other words He stays put: out in the light and air, outside. But we are in time. We ‘move with the times’. That is, from His point of view, we move away, into what He regards as nonentity, where He never follows. That is all there is to us, all there ever was. He may be there in what you call ‘Life’, or He may not. What difference does it make? We're not going to be there for long!”
Reality is not self-existent.  All of reality depends, not only for its origin, but for its every-moment existence, on the will of God.  God creates all that is, and He keeps it in being.

He keeps it in being infallibly at the physical level.  Quanta do whatever quanta are supposed to do.  Gravity gravitates; radiation radiates.  Here God is master.  It may be, as some have suggested, that He works His mighty work of physical beingness through His countless hosts of angels.  Yet, if so, they do their work for Him and - of equal importance to me - for us.

So, also, for biological life, although here - and possibly also even with respect to what we call physical laws - laws of the Law Maker! - it may be that there are effects also of angels - and not all angels are well-intentioned.  Certainly the animal world that we see around us is at times horrifying.  Some have suggested that devils are at work here, as well.

Man is free.

There is a reality to my dream.  Ordered life - peace, tranquillity, benevolence - are not automatically guaranteed by God.  He intends us to be free.  He intends us to love - to love Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbour as ourself.

We do not.  And so to some extent we live in a chaos of un-being that we ourselves have created.  Can we look for no help in finding a way out of the wilderness?

I awoke from my dream without the answer, though I was a Christian at the time, but very much a beginner.  Had I dreamt on, I might have found, in that wilderness itself, a place where a Tree had been planted.  That Tree was not like the lovely shade trees along my avenue.  It had a character not, at first sight, very different from the twisted and terrifying growths that surrounded it.  And it bore a Fruit - a Fruit which, consumed, brought death - or at least dying - to the eater.  But that dying had a strange effect not like other dying.  That dying was a dying to the old chaotic self of un-being - and a living to eternal Life.

08 August 2010

Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be His own

I was going to write something substantial today.  I am left now with writing something which is, indeed, substantial, but there won't be much writing to it.  It is not something that I feel able to say too much about.  It is, however, as substantial as anything can be.

God loves us.

I have a cycle that I follow in going through the Mysteries of the Rosary.  There used to be three sets of five, all reflecting on Our Lord's life, death, and Resurrection:
  • The Joyful Mysteries
  • The Sorrowful Mysteries
  • The Glorious Mysteries
Pope John Paul II, noting that there were none that meditated on Jesus's adult life, added:
  • The Luminous Mysteries
In order to spare you the geeky mathematics I use, I will just tell you that I have a formula I use to decide which mysteries I pray on a particular day, in such a way that I go through them all equally.

This morning I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries:
  1. The Agony in the Garden. Fruit of the Mystery: Sorrow for Sin, Uniformity with the will of God
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar. Fruit of the Mystery: Mortification, Purity
  3. The Crowning with Thorns. Fruit of the Mystery: Contempt of the world, Courage
  4. The Carrying of the Cross. Fruit of the Mystery: Patience
  5. The Crucifixion. Fruit of the Mystery: Salvation, Forgiveness
Look, I have nothing to say that, if you are a Christian, you have not read dozens of times - how amazing it is that God, seeing us lost, turned against Him, wallowing in our sins and miseries, 'sent' (strange word) His Son to die for our sins; raised Him for our justification; promises us eternal life if we will only believe Him, trust Him, love Him, live in His love for us and for the world.

God loves us.  It seems incredible to me, but there is no other way I can see it.  He loves us not for what we are, but ... well, He just loves us.  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus a man, facing the Cross - could only have done what He did because He loved His Father, and His Father loves us - so He loves us.  There in that agony was the critical moment.  "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass for Me - yet not My will, but Thine."

I have pondered all day what to write and can do no better than this - because I cannot express it.  I went to Mass this morning, and at Mass, between the First and Second Readings - followed by the Gospel reading - is the Psalm.  The cantor chants the verses of the Psalm.  Between each section of, usually, four lines, we respond.  Our response today was:

     "Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be His own"

God loves us.  God grant us the gift of loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength - and our neighbour as ourself.

01 August 2010


I had occasion, early this morning, to look at a clip of the last few minutes of the movie "The Graduate":

The icons in this film clip include, especially strikingly, the locked church, the use of a Cross by Ben at the end both to fend off the crowd - and most movingly, the use of that same Cross to lock the crowd in.

I was born in 1942.  Although my own family's life never really matched the straight, up-tight stereotypes represented in the film - and though the film can easily be viewed simply as a classic romance of love fulfilled at last - there can be no doubt of its power as a symbol for the transition from the time of my youth - Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best - to the totally transformed world of "The Sixties"

All ages experience change.  John Henry Newman was born in 1801 - 14 years before the Battle of Waterloo - and died in 1890 in a world with the beginnings of commercial telephony, electric power, and automotive transport.  And he, also, experienced a great revolution, which I know only vaguely, that of German theological liberalism.  Still, to me, looking back, the change over his lifetime appears more gradual.

That of the Sixties was not gradual.  I have seen it said that the the revolution of the Sixties began on 22 November, 1963, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  It is easy to point to the pre-conditions of this change, easy to point to the persistence of the old.  Certainly a major pre-condition was the development of the female oral contraceptive.

Nevertheless, the world of 1968 - when I, in particular, first used marijuana and LSD - was so different from that of 1963 that I think it worthwhile calling it a revolution.

My own conversion to Christianity, at the end of 1969, can certainly be seen as a reaction to all of this.  Indeed, the 'Jesus Movement' is contemporaneous with that, and I am certainly part of it.  I suppose we are all parts of great movements of this sort.  It was certainly a revolution for me - and I thank God for that.  Certainly in 1963 I could never have the changes my life was to experience.

Nor those of the world.