Believing In Santa



When I first told my children about Santa Claus, of course I knew there was no actual human being I was talking about. But I told my children he was real and would reward them for being good.

I didn’t care how they envisioned Santa, for there are so many variations of his image, all so innocent in spirit, lighthearted and loving. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care how they imagined he spent his time at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus, the elves and reindeer. It didn’t matter.

We all understood that Santa was real in a different way than our friends and neighbors were real. He was real in spirit, and so we could imagine all sorts of things about Santa and even read conflicting ideas about his life and accept them all without difficulty. After all, nobody really knew for sure.

The specific details of Santa’s existence were not important. It was the underlying truth, that there are larger reasons for good behavior, reasons that could last for a year or even longer. Santa was a power for goodness in the world who would bless you for your honest heart and punish those who were cruel and deceptive.

As a grownup, I replaced the idea of Santa with knowledge. I knew that honesty, no matter how unrecognized it may be among friends and family, fills your life with joy, the kind of joy that is free from shame and guilt. I also knew that those who are dishonest and mean, no matter how long their actions may go undetected, are immediately punished for their sins because of who they become. They have lost the heart of an innocent child.

Heaven and hell are here, and those who are evil live in a hell of their own making, the hell of their own existence, no matter how long they avoid punishment from others.

In this dangerous and unpredictable world there are so many good people who are so unjustly punished by life, by disease, natural disaster, political oppression or just everyday happenstance. Earth is a place where all things are possible, both good and bad. It has something to do with free will. But if we struggle against adversity with an honest heart, we will find higher ground.

So my children grew up believing in Santa, even though they did not keep him firmly in mind throughout the year. But they grew up believing that striving to be honest and good was the right way to live. And even though some of the children they knew did not believe in Santa, they did not fight with them. Some believed, some didn’t. It didn’t matter.

Most of the children who believed in Santa needed no proof. They accepted Santa as a matter of faith, buttressed by the occasional Christmas morning miracle of the missing cookies and nearly empty glass of milk. When my children began to seriously question the existence of Santa, I took them to an old stone church and we sat in a beautiful, vine-encrusted alcove and I explained that Santa was more than just one single person.

I told them Santa was the spirit of giving that lives in all of us who find joy in bringing happiness to others. I told them every department store Santa who gave joy to little children was filled with the spirit of Santa. I told them every parent who wrapped up a special gift with a card that said, “Love to you, from Santa!” was inspired by the spirit of Santa. I told them Santa was more magic than they imagined, that instead of being just one person, Santa was the spirit of kindness and love that filled the hearts of millions, especially at Christmas, and that we should keep his spirit alive every day of the year.

I told them that as we grow up, many of us replace the idea of Santa with the idea of God.

I told them the best parts of all religions were filled with this spirit, and that this is what so many people mean by the word God, that God is a force for honesty, kindness and love in the world. I told them it does not matter how we picture God or how we define God. As long as we fill our hearts with love and charity, then we are doing the work of God here on Earth.

I told them words and pictures are what we use to help us understand the spirit of Santa, the spirit of God, but the words and pictures are not what’s important. It is the meaning behind the words and pictures, the inspiration that fills each heart.

We are all imperfect, we all make mistakes and we all have times in our lives when we are so certain about things that we become blind to our errors. To fight each other over ideas about God is like trying to prove whose idea of Santa is the real idea. To fight each other over ideas of God is to be so certain that we have become blind to our own imperfection and capacity for error.

I told them some people forget that these stories are about meanings, not details. They are intended to open our hearts and help direct the course of our lives. It’s the message that's important, and what it says to each of us.

I told them to respect the religions of all cultures, that whatever ideas of God people believe in, if these ideas open their hearts and lead them toward honesty, compassion and love, then they are on the right path – all of them.

The details are not what’s important. We all speak different languages and have different ways of describing and understanding things. It’s the essence from which all explanations come that is important. That’s what faith is for, to keep the connection strong between ourselves and God because words are not enough.

We all have to start somewhere. Some of us start with Santa. The important thing is to realize that spiritual growth is like any other kind of growth – it requires change. The lessons we learn as children are for children. The lessons we learn at the beginning of our spiritual journeys are for beginnings. To grow a larger soul, we must not get stuck. We must not stop. We must keep going.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11





~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo: Christopher & Joshua Loar with Santa
© All Rights Reserved




I Knew A Young Man


















I knew a young man
Who drank warm water
Right from the faucet,
From his cupped hand.

Everything he did,
An act of defiance,
An act of strength,
His way through the world.

They sent him to the war
And he didn’t last a week.





~ Poem and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




One Cup Of Coffee















S o many of us are struggling,
Tormented by work and money,
Dysfunctional families,
Disease and decadence,
Political injustice,
Weather,
Inertia.

Yet each morning,
After only one cup of coffee,
I am glad to be alive
One more day.




~ Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by Christian René aka runnerfrog
© All Rights Reserved




The Boundaries Of Heaven

















We draw the boundaries of heaven
Around the spaces of ourselves,
Marked off by threat
And bluster,
As if heaven were a place
Unwelcome.



~ Text and photo by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




At The Circus









W hat was I thinking?

Too eager to accept a dare? Afraid to back down?

How absurd it all seems now, about to step out on this wire so incredibly high above the crowd.








~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by Jolantasketch
© All Rights Reserved





Under The Bed
























I remember seeing a white, colonial building fronted with columns on the day I was left at the orphanage.

At least this memory was always in my mind, but knowing how insatiably curious I’ve always been about my biological parents, my biological circumstances, I knew that I may simply have been filling in the blanks of the great mystery that was my first two years of life. After all, I have absolutely no memory of the mother I'd lived with more than a year.

Then one day when I was in my early twenties, I went there. It was the first time since being left for adoption. I'd phoned a social worker who agreed to meet with me, to tell me some basic “non-identifying” information about my parents. As I approached the address, the building came into view. It looked exactly as I’d remembered: A white building, colonial style, columns and all.

What followed is a blank. I don’t remember the foster family I lived with for the next six months and I don’t remember being taken home by my new parents. Many years later, my grandmother told me that for the first few months, every time the doorbell rang, I’d run and hide under my bed. It took me a long time to shake that fear, and even now, I still get the urge once in a while.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Painting by Erin Payne
© All Rights Reserved





I Am Born




W hen did I start? What is my first conscious memory? You might as well ask when Being burst out of Nothing and became Something. Who knows?


I was warm, living in a dream. There was sound but not much light. There were thoughts and images without meaning. There was no passage of time, no wanting, just being.

There surely must have been some kind of struggle at the time of my emergence, but this I do not remember. I remember being removed from my cave into a bright blinding light. I remember crying, but it was more like listening to myself cry from a distance, rather than feeling any personal, emotional impulse to cry.

I was wrapped in cloth and put in what I now believe was the white metal cradle of a scale to measure my weight. I fell asleep, trying to fall back into that place from where I came.

I don’t remember anything else until thirteen months later, the day my mother left me at the orphan’s home and never came back.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Who created this artwork?
© All Rights Reserved




Somewhere There Is A Boy



















Somewhere there is a boy
Dreaming of a horse,
A horse of his own,
A part of his soul,
A horse he would ride
Through fields and meadows,
Through shadowed woods,
A horse he would greet each morning,
Spend all day with,
Kiss goodnight.

Somewhere there is a boy
Dreaming of horse,
A horse like the one I see here,
Standing in a muddy pen,
Looking wistfully out at me
As I walk by,
This horse,
Alone all day long,
Dreaming of a boy.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Painting by Jessica McMahon
© All Rights Reserved





Incarnation















D o I believe in reincarnation?

Well, does reincarnation depend on whether I believe in it or not? I definitely believe in Incarnation, because I’m here on this planet writing the inconsequential story of my life, aren’t I? College philosophy aside, yes, I am here. I was incarnated. And if I had prior lifetimes I cannot remember them, which is just fine with me considering how painful it is at my age to remember the more inglorious episodes of this particular incarnation.

Who wants to remember what it was like to have a diaper full of poo? And believe me, that was not worst of it. How deep I go and how much I tell about my life will be tested by this exercise, but at least I’ll have something left for my descendants to ponder, aside from the typical diary which so often disappoints:

June 13, 1776: Had dinner with the Jones tonight. A little rain. Going to fix the wagon tomorrow.

Yes, memory of prior reincarnations would be way too much for me to handle emotionally. So, whether I was Mozart, Hitler or a cocker spaniel in a past life, I just can’t say.

I do remember being born, however, whatever, and can you believe it? Now I’m not saying that it’s a real memory, a true memory. It may very well be a manufactured memory, part of my anarchistic imagination which has been so influential in inspiring me to be no one in particular all these years.

Here’s what WebMD.com has to say about how much newborns can see:

Babies are born with a full visual capacity to see objects and colors. However, newborns are extremely nearsighted. Far away objects are blurry. Newborns can see objects about 8-15 inches away quite sharply. Newborns prefer to look at faces over other shapes and objects and at round shapes with light and dark borders.

So whether or not my memory is based on any truth at all, I cannot say, but I will tell you all about it.




~ Text and artwork by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved





I Slapped My Father, Hard






















I  slapped my father hard, a clean open-fisted slap that sent his bifocals skidding across the kitchen floor.

It was the culmination of my accumulated rage against that man. It was a reaffirmation of the difference between us, of the vow I’d made to never, ever become anything at all like him. It was complete rejection, without hesitation.

It was a vow often repeated but first intoned when I was eight years old, the morning after "The Dream." It was a dream that would both instruct and haunt me for the rest of my life. In "The Dream," I saw my parents as I’d often seen them late in the evening, from behind a canvas shade pulled down to cover the glass-paneled door that separated my tiny bedroom from the family room where they spent their evenings watching television. My makeshift bedroom was originally a den. Although their house was built by an architect, it was not designed for two children. I was the second child.

By curling the edge of the shade back a bit with my thumb and forefinger, I could watch television shows that were on past my bedtime, and I could watch my parents. I discovered my mother smoked. She had never, ever smoked in front of me or my older sister, and especially not in front of her parents who lived next door, who would have been horrified. I also saw my parents drink. Sometimes they filled the house with strangers who talked loud and drank and talked louder and drank more and filled the house with smoke and loud frightening laughter surrounding and invading my tiny dark room.

My parents acted gracious and kind when observed by others, but alone at home they were troubled and angry. I was often jolted out of sleep in the middle of the night by the sobbing and screaming of my mother, by the anger and accusations shouted by my father. I knew this meant I would be severely disciplined the next day for the smallest transgression. I would be hit. It might be a slap across the face, a spanking or repeated blows during the frenzy of unharnessed rage.

I spent most of my younger years assuming guilt, wondering why I was such a bad child, deserving of so much punishment. But as I grew older, I developed a growing awareness I was not really the cause of their anger, just the excuse.


THE DREAM:


I was standing next to the glass-paneled door in the dark of my room and pulled back the shade just enough to see my parents turning off the television. They began pulling at their hair until finally, with great effort, they pulled off their human masks, revealing their true faces—the faces of wolves. After removing their clothing, they were fully transformed. They snarled and snickered as they walked on four legs toward their bedroom and out of my sight, malevolently amused at their success in hiding their true identities.


The next morning I vowed I would never give in to these wild beasts, these devourers. I would fight them. I would defend myself. I knew their secret.





~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by Kevin Hensels
© All Rights Reserved




The Last Day Of Summer















The last long summer day,
The last long summer afternoon,
The orange auburn light of the setting sun,
Hastening my play,
Delay, delay.

The air still and cool,
I am alone,
My friends called home,
Alone and still playing,
Delaying, delaying.



© All Rights Reserved





My Light




M y earliest memory is of a large white house, something like a Southern plantation house fronted by Greek columns, blindingly white, glimpsed through the windshield of the car my mother was driving. I was about one year old. She left me there, inside this large, white house. I never saw her again.

It was a place for orphaned children. After my mother realized my father would not leave his own wife and children as he had promised, the pressure to put me up for adoption was evidently too great to resist. It was 1951 in Southern California and my mother was from a proud military family. She loved me, I was later told, but the situation was unacceptable, especially to her parents. She loved me, but everyone agreed that “a boy should have a father.” It was a solution. It did not make everything all right. Nothing could do that. After all, we’d been together every day during my first sixteen months of life. She was my mother.

My insecurity was born that day. If I could lose my mother, my home and everything I’d ever known in such an instant, then what was left? Who could I trust?

I grew up seeing the world as a threat, expecting to be rejected by everyone, expecting to lose everything. I expected abandonment. My fears were fueled by the cruel and abusive parents who adopted me. This is my darkness.

I also grew up seeking the truth about my first year and a half of life, hidden from me for so long. In the process I learned there is much about our lives that is hidden by pretense and artifice – hidden by others; hidden by ourselves. And in this search, in finding the truth, in finding myself, I have found a healing love far stronger than the darkness of my troubled soul. This is my light.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved





Complete Honesty





I was an honest man when my father-in-law began to die.

It took me the first twenty-seven years of my life to become a consistently honest man, a scrupulously honest man. I was not a habitual liar, but I grew up wanting to stay out of trouble with my parents who were not of a forgiving nature, and so I lied. During my teenage years the fabrications multiplied as I tried my best to live free of parental rules and regulations. I didn’t lie to get anything in particular, I lied to stay out of trouble.

Do you realize what time it is young man?

I ran out of gas.

I started lying for personal gain during the early years of my marriage when money was hard to come by and even harder to hold on to. I would tell any number of tall tales about automobile repairs and broken-down refrigerators to convince my wealthy yet retentive parents that their money, so painful for them to part with, was at least going to some practical use.

I need $150.

What? More money? Again? We just gave you $400 to fix your car!

The refrigerator stopped. The repair guy is here right now. I’ve got to get it fixed so the food won’t spoil.

Then, one day, the lies stopped.

I was no less impecunious, but something happened that changed my perspective. I became a father. I began to question just what kind of father I would be in the eyes of my son. I knew what kind of father I wanted to be, and so I set out to become that idealized person. I had many weaknesses to address and redress, but the first, most important task was to become a completely honest man. Honest in all things, at all times. I knew the foundation of morality, character and wisdom had to be honesty. Without honesty life is a house of cards, susceptible to the slightest breeze of truth.

I began to test myself. If a waiter forgot to charge me for some item of food, I insisted that it be added to my bill. If a cashier gave me too much change at a store, I returned it. In fact, I paid particular attention to the most trivial transactions and interactions. I had much to atone for. And I was tested. An inordinate number of people dropped money from pockets and purses whenever I was around.

Clerical errors in my favor abounded. The kind of happenstance I constantly wished for during my most poverty-stricken years now occurred with peculiar regularity. I still do not know if this was an odd coincidence, a divine test, or just the sort of thing that happens all the time, a normal state of affairs which I became acutely aware of only because of my near obsessive desire to make amends for a lifetime of ethical lapses.

You only charged me for three of these cookies, but I’ve got four.

That’s OK. We’ll catch you next time.

No, please, let me pay you for this other cookie.

Don’t worry about it. It’s OK.

I cannot leave here without paying you for this cookie.

By the time I was forty-two, my honesty was habitual. A reflex. It must also be said that no being of human dimensions can achieve perfection, but I tried. I became prideful of the opportunity to display my honesty at every turn. In my professional life as a newspaper reporter, a career begun after my first son was born, I sought out dishonesty with a missionary zeal. I would recount the lies of various miscreants, their attempts to cover up their lies, their false claims of being misunderstood and quoted “out of context,” and finally their apologies. I was instrumental in destroying their reputations and shaming their families. They were ultimately responsible for their own behavior, but I was merciless. There’s no more fierce advocate for the truth than a reformed liar.

Former school superintendent Peter Snyder, convicted last year of embezzling $2.7 million from the Valley Unified School District, was stabbed to death in a San Diego County prison yesterday. “He was a good man who made a bad mistake,” said ex-wife Theresa Snyder who divorced her husband two months after his conviction.

~~~

Does honesty have limits? Should an honest person lie to avoid hurting the feelings of friends and family? Does honesty require you to tell your mother her new outfit is forty years out of date and her hairdo makes her look like Bozo the Clown? Surely we are not required to voice every subjective opinion in order to fulfill the requirements of honesty. A reluctance to express opinions and preferences, after all, is not a masking of truth, it is a refusal to engage in momentary, subjective assessment.

You’ve changed your hair.

How do you like it?

I think it brings out the real you.

And yet when it came to my personal beliefs, I never put the slightest tarnish on the truth. My late father-in-law, a physician, was a deeply religious man. Soon after I began dating his only daughter, I felt no reluctance in telling him just how medieval I thought his particular religion was.

How can you actually believe your religion is the only true religion?

We trust in the teachings of our church.

Did it ever occur to you that your self-serving religious leaders just might be wrong?

We have no reason to doubt them.

My wife and I were subsequently married without her parents’ blessings, and only over the course of years did my relationship with the two godly souls that were her parents, soften. Most of the softening came with the birth of my first son, their first grandchild. And so were we all changed by the miracle that is a newborn child. I learned to hold my tongue while simultaneously developing a genuine interest in the weather as a topic of conversation.

I returned to college and majored in journalism, a profession which is supposed to be about the truth. My father-in-law admired my determination to finish college while working odd jobs to support my family. He had entered medical school late in life after serving in the Army and knew only too well how hard it was to attend classes, study, be an attentive father and still earn some kind of living. My second son was born three years later, between semesters, and the bond between our families grew stronger. Religion was not a subject for conversation, but in all other matters, our relations became cordial.

About five years later, Grandpa Doc, as my father-in-law became known to our sons, retired from medical practice. He was a kind man who left many broken-hearted patients behind when he moved to the small Northern California town of Paradise. Yes, it’s actually named Paradise. Moving was his wife’s idea, for she was the font of all religious discipline in the family and believed the big cities would soon fall into chaos, what with the Second Coming nearly here. The small town of Paradise was indeed a beautiful, if not remote, place to live, but it left him bereft of friends and familiar landmarks. It was a cold turkey retirement. And a few years later, his isolation grew as his mental faculties failed.

And so Grandpa Doc traveled between comprehension and confusion, never fully surrendering to confusion, always fighting his way back for a while. I watched his struggle, and it was during our last visit when he asked me The Question. He was in the hospital and we were alone together. His wife had left the small, sterile room to get a drink of water and my wife went with her. He was lying flat on his back with only a small pillow under his head, confused, but not scared. He looked at me and smiled with the same unassuming manner that had always been his way with patients, especially when broaching the subject of bad news.

How does it look? Do you think I’m going to pull through?

He was counting on my honesty, asking me to confide in him. As a physician, he was only too aware of the fiction of reassuring words from friends, family and medical professionals who have decided the patient is no longer in a sufficient state of mind to process factual information. But this was one of Grandpa Doc’s clear moments and he wanted to know the truth. He figured I was the most likely person to give it to him—straight.

And what was the truth? Could I really predict the future? Was I medically qualified to give any kind of diagnosis, much less prognosis, to this man so cruelly cast adrift by old age? Of course, we all knew that his condition was not reversible. But how could I tell this religious man there would be no miracle for him?

Torn between the obvious and the miraculous, given this grave honor of rendering some kind of truthful information to a man momentarily clear enough to want to know what was really happening, I put my hand on his shoulder, smiled, and summoned my best imitation of the offhand remark, my best imitation of his own reassuring beside manner.

You’re doing OK. You’ll pull out of this. You’ll be going home soon.

He looked into my eyes and at least for a moment, he knew the truth.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved





Fever




I was about 12 years old and my fever kept rising.

I suppose it was a bad case of the flu. I can’t remember precisely. It may have been mononucleosis. As my temperature rose unchecked, I slipped into a place between life and death, a hallucinatory place. There before me was an immense stone floating impossibly in the air.

After all these years I still have a precise memory of that vision. It was a message that took me many years to understand, something hard to put into words, something about faith, something about a spiritual place, an eternal place where the normal laws of physics do not apply.

A few years ago I put my vision into a poem.

THERE IS WILDNESS HERE

There is wildness here,
Raw and raging
Beneath this exterior,
Pulsing.

There are visions here
Of soaring over lifetimes of leaf-filled trees
And rust-colored hills,
Over yellow fields,
Over oceans.

There is forgetting here
Of the small things people say,
The small things people do.

There is a last angry echo
Of the unheard voice,
The deeper self,
The truer self,
The wilder self
That wearies of all man-made things.

There is a silence here
That grows and infuses,
Like the melancholy tint
Of an old photograph,
An old photograph you walk around in,
Examining with wonder the frozen, yet flowing
Moments of a life.

There is a wildness here
That rises like an immense stone,
Floating impossibly
In the pure blue sky
Of a secret spring.



~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Castle in the Pyrenees by René Magritte
© All Rights Reserved





Renegade




It was not hard to be renegade in the sleepy Los Angeles suburb of West Covina during the 1960s.

Emerging from the conservative ‘50s, all you had to be was a disagreeable teenager, especially in this Anglo-Saxonite community where most of the local power brokers attended Rotary Club pancake breakfasts with an alarming regularity. Come to think of it, regularity was also a big deal during this era.

My home town was very much like the place portrayed in the movie, “American Graffiti.” It was a teenage car culture, and after I turned 16, I had a driver’s license. Not long after, I had a car. My parents were upper middle class, so I did not have to actually earn the money to buy a car. And my mother was eager to be free of having to take me places, and then, pick me up and bring me home. Her life was busy enough, what with Women's Club luncheons to plan, bridge parties, country club appearances and the ongoing burden of supervising housekeepers and gardeners — all this along with a husband who actually expected her to make dinner on a regular basis. Yes, regularity was a pretty big deal during this era.

Nowadays there are lots of restrictions on young drivers, but when I got my license, I was free, turned loose on the streets without any restrictions or guidelines. Just a few hours of driver’s ed. But I was a pretty good driver. I’d had experience, what with all those times I took my parents’ cars out on the road when they were away for a weekend trip. Yes, I remember learning how every intersection was not necessarily a four-way stop as I propelled my mother’s lumbering, razor-finned Cadillac straight toward a passing car who, much to my surprise, had no stop sign. I hit the brake pedal just in time.

Then there was that lesson about road rage, what we used to call, “mad” or “angry.” I thought driving was a competition, and that the object was to beat the other drivers. After all, I wasn’t actually going anywhere. So I jammed down the gas pedal and managed to pull the great white whale in front of this other guy in an old, compact car who had tried his best not to let me into his lane. While I was waiting behind another car at a stop sign, he got out and walked up to my car, signaled for me to roll down my window, which I did, then punched me in the face.

By the time I had my own car, a dark green 1965 Ford Mustang — the fastback model — I was seasoned. I’d make my car too fast to catch, and I certainly would never roll down my window again for anybody.

In those days it seemed like most of my friends and rivals were working on their cars, customizing old Chevys, putting in big carburetors, high performance shifters, custom exhaust systems, giant racing slicks – even whole new engines. This was long before the state-mandated smog check. Nobody checked the condition of our cars when we renewed their registrations, so all modifications went undetected. I was not one of the more talented kid mechanics around, although I could gap a spark plug. I was a musician, a guitar player, and I did not like getting my fingers stained with grease. So I took the money I saved from teaching guitar lessons and working in a local pizza parlor and went to a speed shop in a neighboring city to let the experts juice up my horsepower. The first thing they did was rip out all the smog prevention equipment.

“You don’t need all this stuff,” I remember the mechanic saying. Years later, when I tried to trade the car in on a new model, the local Ford dealer would disagree. “You’ve got no smog equipment! We’re going to have to replace it all just to put the car on the lot.”

Oops!

Except for a little cash for dating and guitar strings, I’d put all my money into my car — a nice racket for the speed shop — and after a while I began racing my car on Saturdays at the nearby Irwindale Speedway along with all the other high school amateurs. But as a renegade teenager, the real thrill was street racing. It was like being a gunslinger in the Old West, just prowling around town, looking to challenge somebody to a shootout.

Yes, I had my share of speeding tickets, but I was never caught racing. Most of us weren’t. There were not that many police officers cruising around town in those days.

There was always the occasional race during the day, when I’d just happen to pull up next to another kid in a hot car after school. Who was faster? We just had to find out! But weekend nights were the real prime racing time. It was like jousting, trying to prove our nascent manhood to our girlfriends, or to somebody else’s girlfriend.

Sometimes the races were organized.

Some guy with greasy hair had a new Camaro 280z and swore he could take me. Bets were made and the next Saturday night my friends blocked off both ends of a sleepy suburban street about a half-mile long while we lined up our cars. About twenty high school kids gathered at the finish line. Camaro boy couldn’t catch me, even though his car may have been faster. I was always incredibly quick off the starting line.

That’s what won me the race set up by the speed shop at Irwindale Raceway. There was another kid, a rich kid whose father owned stores, who was already out of high school, who came to the speed shop with a Mustang pretty much like mine. The speed shop mechanics figured this guy would be good competition for me. After they’d done their best to expand his horsepower, we set a date.

The early part of the afternoons at Irwindale were spent doing practice runs, called “qualifying.” You had to turn a good enough time in your particular class to compete in the early evening, before the actual professionals did their stuff for the audience who sat in bleachers on either side of the quarter-mile track.

Steve – my well-financed opponent – and I both qualified at the top of our class and were set to compete. I had the advantage of nearly a year of experience, while this was Steve’s first time at a professional raceway. He was a little nervous, especially since we had an audience of friends, girlfriends and the speed shop mechanics. It had just turned dark as we pulled up to the starting line, facing the “Christmas Tree,” a series of lights mounted on each side of a central bracket that indicate when the cars are in the right starting position. Then, once the cars are positioned, the yellow lights count down to green. If a driver started too early, a red light would signal disqualification.

We both edged our cars into starting position, our engines almost window-shatteringly loud because we’d opened up our “headers” (high performance exhaust systems) to bypass the mufflers. From experience, I knew the slight lag time of my car – from the time I hit the gas pedal to the car’s forward surge – allowed me to start a half second before the green light flashed.

We waited, then the first yellow light flashed on, moving down toward the green light. The moment Steve’s brain told him the light was green, I’d already jumped out from the starting line. He was momentarily stunned, and even though he turned a faster time, he never caught me. It wasn’t really about how fast you went, it was about who got there first. Mind over horsepower. I made it to the finish line first, won the trophy and renewed admiration from my girlfriend.

Yes, it was a moment.

Of course now as a responsible adult I am appalled at my behavior, risking accident and injury on the streets of my sleepy suburban town. Perhaps that’s why it made so much sense for all of us to go just outside of town to the Chicken Ranch.

There was a long, straight road inside the Chicken Ranch property, made for trucks to pick up eggs and chickens, I suppose. Nobody stayed with the chickens at night, especially not on Saturday nights. This particular night had not been the first time high school hot rods had raced there, but it was my first time.

There were dozens of competitors from area high schools and junior colleges, and dozens more who just came to watch. It is a solemn testament to the short-range saturation of the teenage brain that none of us had entertained a single thought about potential consequences. Rubber burned and smoked and engines spit and roared as pair after pair of racers hurtled down the improvised racetrack. After I made my run, the growing chaos of beer-swilling youth amazingly enough triggered some fledgling sense of adult apprehension in me, and so I left. As I exited the entrance to the Chicken Ranch, I was passed by a long line of police cars.

That was the last race ever held at the Chicken Ranch. It was my senior year, and before long, I’d own a more practical car, have a more practical girlfriend, and grow a little less renegade as the wild anarchy of my teenage years passed. After all, I had to prepare for the wild anarchy of my twenties.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved





Flying














I  can’t remember the first time I dreamed of flying.
But oh how natural it seemed, like becoming my true self once again, unrestricted by gravity. No more up and down, just here and there. Each altitude a sovereign space.


I was flying,
Swift and sure
With the lift of a hand,
A miracle on demand.

But more than the addictive bliss
Of flight,
Or the intoxication
Of height,
I was most proud
Of my position above the crowd,
Most proud
And most alone.
I was the only one.

Out of loneliness I descended,
And flew closely by,
Urging all to try.

But not one would leave the ground,
So sadly I ascended
And flew once more above them,
Unnoticed,
Without sound.


I flew over yellow gold meadows, lifetimes of oceans and mountains, lakes and forests, sometimes above the clouds and sometimes skimming the surface of the water.

Then I started flying closer to the ground in some of my dreams, more like hovering. I’d be walking down a city sidewalk and then lift slightly off the ground and slide along like a sailboat in a strong wind gliding over the water, angling my body in order to change speed and turn, like a freefall, only sideways.

In some dreams I felt possessed by the need to demonstrate this remarkable ability to others. I would be in a crowded room and lift myself up off the ground about three feet or so. It felt like something akin to proving that God is real and manifest in our everyday lives, proving that miracles are within our power. "Behold!" I would declare.

But in these dreams no one thinks my flying is remarkable. They are always busily engrossed in day-to-day activities and seem not to notice -- not to care.

When I awaken it takes me a while to realize I can’t fly. When I was younger I’d actually try to reach that certain mechanism in the back of my brain that could lift me off the ground, but alas, it never worked. I could not defeat gravity. Perhaps there are other ways.








~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Scene #19 by Cristian René
© All Rights Reserved





Collections


The first things I collected were stuffed animals, but only two of them slept with me at night. Of all my friends and playmates, I dearly loved the little gray cat and floppy brown and tan spotted dog who slept under the covers and kept me from feeling lonely at bedtime.

I’ve never lived anywhere very long without cats. I sleep with a little calico cat named Sally now.

I collected small metal cars and loved to drive them around cities I made from colored blocks.

When I was 17 years old I raced my mustang at Irwindale Raceway and won a few trophies.

I collected 45 rpm records, songs I heard on the radio. I listened to them over and over again. Each week when I went to the music store for my trumpet lesson, I bought a new “single” to add to my collection. I pretended I was a disc jockey and would announce each record I played.

One summer I won a contest on radio station KFWB by being the first caller. I talked to disc jockey Gary Owens and he sent me a Gary Owens coloring book and KFWB bumper sticker.

When I was 42 years old and working as a reporter for a daily newspaper in Newport Beach, California, I did daily newscasts for a local FM radio station. Someone once told me they heard me in a supermarket where the station was playing.

I collected coins and stamps, ordering them from catalogues and putting them into albums. I looked through everyone’s pennies, trying to find a 1909-S VDB, the rarest of Lincoln pennies. It never turned up. I learned that the reason certain coins and stamps were worth so much money was the same reason I’d never find them.

I began investing seriously in my late 40s, having more luck in recognizing an undervalued stock than knowing when to sell it. I learned that for many investments, value and worth are temporary.

As I grew up, my collections shifted from things to experiences. I collected friends, lovers and accomplishments. I collected books I’d read. I collected knowledge and learning. I collected songs and poems I wrote. I collected performances I played as a musician. I collected the talented musicians I played with. After I became a newspaper reporter, I collected my best published stories. I collected every famous and interesting person I met.

I collected family photographs, all the way back to great grandparents, arranging them in albums. I collected my family, my parents and grandparents, the years of my marriage, the companionship of my sons. I'm waiting to collect a grandchild or two.

I collect memories and as I grow old they reveal meanings to me I’d never fully understood. I collect the acts of kindness I’ve received and try to pass them on to others. I collect wisdom and continue to learn and relearn the lessons I’ve been taught from those still living and those who have passed on, their words still speaking to me.

I collect knowledge of the joy and sadness in this world, the tragedies and victories of the spirit, the damnations and the revelations. Sometimes it’s all too much and so I pack some of my collections away in boxes and label them, knowing I can always go back and unpack, knowing I’ll never look inside some of these boxes again, knowing all things change and life should move forward, mindfully forward.

My house is full of things useful and decorous, impractical and silly, remnants of a long life. I look at these things and they remind me of who I have been, who I still am. I suppose I will never completely discard my past, as long as it has something to teach me. I suppose all that I’ve collected has been an attempt to preserve happiness, wisdom and love.

Someday I will leave all these collections behind, passing these objects and their meanings on to others, but keeping the joy of having lived on this Earth in my eternal heart.





~ Text and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




The Music Of Sound





S ome people are more visual, some more audial. For me, it was always sound that penetrated my senses deeper than anything else.


I love sound, all kinds of sounds. Like young people everywhere, I found emotional refuge in music while I was growing up. Music was a drug that restored the chemical imbalances in my brain. I loved sound so much I even became a musician for a few years.

So many of the sounds in everyday life sound like music to me, even voices, and that caused problems in elementary school. I was never very good at math, but I had the added challenge of a math teacher with a Swedish accent, Mr. Westman. Every word he spoke sounded like a note. His sentences collected into melodies. His classroom lectures were sonatas some days, jazz improvisations other days.

Then, every once in a while my name poked through the melodic line: “Russell! What is the answer?” I didn’t even know the question. And even when he repeated the question, all I could hear was the music of his voice. I shook my head to signal my complete confusion, accompanied by the laughter of my far more attentive classmates.

After I was adopted and living in my new home, my earliest memory is of the record player at my grandparent’s house next door. It was so tall I had to stand on a chair to turn it on. It was an old 78 rpm record player on the top of a mahogany cabinet that also contained a small black and white television and a radio. I was too young to actually place records on the record player, but somehow, I managed to turn it on and put the needle on the record. The booming sound of the music was magic.

One afternoon I was listening to some old scratchy record of my grandfather’s that could have very well been “New San Antonio Rose,” by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. My grandfather was from Texas and I loved this recording. Suddenly the sound slowed down and the singing slowed down and I thought some kind of monster was emerging from the music. It sounded like the voice of some awful demon accompanied by a train wreck. It was incredibly frightening. That was the day I learned what electricity was, and what could happen if its magic flow was briefly interrupted, for the demon and the train wreck quickly disappeared, and like a movie run backwards, the music reassembled itself and rose again from the darkness of some terrible underworld.

Moon in all your splendor knows only my heart,
Call back my Rose, Rose of San Antone,
Lips so sweet and tender like petals fallin' apart,
Speak once again of my love, my own.

Yes, that was the day my grandfather taught me something about electricity. I also learned something very important that day about fear.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Monster Trucks and Sausages















Someone gave me free tickets to the monster truck show at the county fair, entitling me to be among the privileged few to witness a huge, elevated truck smash into a motor home.
As I chewed on the tougher parts of my fat-laden giant sausage, I surveyed the enthusiastic monster truck audience, watched them cheer for the wheelie-popping trucks, and mused on just how fragile our participatory democracy truly is.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photograph by FlagWorld.com
~ From My Incarnation.com
© All Rights Reserved




The Truth



The truth has always been here, long before it was written about, long before theology, long before philosophy.

The wisest among us are interpreters, but the truth is eternal and cannot be changed by the interpretations of human beings.





~ Text & photograph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Wake Up!



















At some point, you must set aside what you want to happen
and realize what is actually happening.




~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




This Flower



I give you this flower,
Individual,
Containing all flowers,
Containing all my love,
Which cannot be contained.




~ Poem and Photo by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




There's Always A Price




























You dream of flying, but if your wish were granted, the freedom of flight would be paid for with the solemnity of survival.




~ Russ Allison Loar
~ "Freedom" painting by Dorothea Hyde
© All Rights Reserved