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Omaha, St. Mary’s University & Cyrano de Bergerac

Far back in the swirling mists of time, back in the seventh decade of the past century—well, to be specific it was in 1966 and I needed a few more college credits to add to the motley collection I had amassed over the prior nine years.

I was a member of the United States armed forces at the time, not necessarily gainfully employed—military pay was miserly when compared to today’s pay rates. My wife and I were sharing—not equally but sharing—the responsibilities involved in raising a young family of three girls and a miniature Chihuahua, aged twelve, eight, four and one year respectively. That didn’t leave much time for study, but spurred on by my desire for a bona fide college degree, I enrolled in night school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

I had almost enough college credits to transfer my hours to the Municipal University of Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska in order to earn a baccalaureate. I only needed a few more hours in general education, and at that time I had more than a passing interest in religion, so in my search for truth I enrolled in several courses dealing with religion. My final class at St. Mary’s was a study of early Greek philosophy and ancient Greek philosophers. Successful completion of that final course with its three hours of credit would allow me to transfer my hours to Omaha under the auspices of the military services’ Bootstrap program.

Remember my statement that working full-time and helping maintain a household and raising three girls and a Chihuahua was a hindrance to my studies? I did not do well in the philosophy class, and that was reflected by my final grade, a grade based only on the final test for that subject in that semester. No credit was given for attendance, dress or attitude, class participation or good looks—not that such credit would have helped me—I just thought it was worth mentioning.

On second thought I am convinced that extra credit was given in that class, but was restricted to the mini-skirted girls that monopolized the front row seats, habitually—nay, constantly—crossing and uncrossing their legs. However, I will reserve that topic for a future Word Press post—stay tuned!

The test consisted of four essay questions, to only one of which—number four—I penned a scholarly answer and was given the full 25 points allowed for each question. As for the first three questions, my blue test booklet showed only the numbers and that little black dot—the period—that followed each number. If you guessed my final number grade for the course as 25 you would be correct, and if you guessed my final letter grade as an F, you would be wrong. The priest that taught the class quite generously awarded me a D for the class, a grade that carried weight and could count toward a degree from St. Mary’s University.

That evening I asked the instructor for a private meeting, and we stayed in the classroom after the other students left. I explained the predicament in which the D placed me, and he told me that it could be used at St. Mary’s, but I explained that even if it could be transferred, Omaha would not accept it. I did not shed any tears during my private session with the priest, but I did allow my voice to waver and crack several times—I know I created a pitiful spectacle, but hey, I was desperate.

And it worked. He told me to study industriously and return to his classroom the following week on an evening that he had no class. I spent most of the next week studying the material and writing notes on small scraps of paper. Yes, they were cheat notes—I said I was desperate, right?

I returned the following week and the priest gave me a blue test booklet and a paper with four hand-written questions, then told me to find an empty classroom on the second floor, take the test and return it within one hour. Although the evening was balmy, I sported a sport coat fitted with two outside pockets and two inside pockets, all filled with those little scraps of paper that I mentioned—I was running late that night and had forgotten to remove them—honest! (And if you believe that, I have some ocean front property in Arizona, etc., etc.)

The rest of this story will be mercifully brief. I found an empty classroom, entered and closed the door behind me so I would not be distracted by hallway noises, and also with the hope that I would be alerted should the door be opened while I was cheating on the test. And now, just one more short paragraph and you, my readers, will be free to search for greener pastures of literature. I know full well that the final paragraph will require readers to suspend disbelief, but so be it—as Bill Clinton might say, It is what it is.

I removed not one cheat note from my stuffed coat pockets—not one. I had worked so hard to identify test material to put on cheat notes that I knew the material by rote. I never knew the actual point grade given, but my D was upgraded to a C that was immediately transferred to Omaha’s municipal university, an institute of higher learning that graduated me in the spring of 1968, the last class to be graduated before the university became UNO, the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: Please note that I said the Municipal University of Omaha graduated me, not that I graduated the University of Omaha. One cannot graduate a university, no matter how mightily one strives—only universities have the right and the privilege to graduate. Yes, I am aware of the common usage of the verb phrase to graduate, but I steadfastly refuse the common usage, electing instead to abuse the words of Cyrano de Bergerac as given voice by Edmond Rostand in his 1897 play—like the mighty oak I stand, not tall but alone—or something similar to that.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Books, education, Family, Humor, Military, poetry, Writing

 

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Going cold turkey on a fishing trip . . .

I have received an e-mail request from my daughter, a self-employed graphic designer and photographer who lives, loves and works in Alexandria, Virginia and blogs at www.cindydyer.wordpress.com.

I kicked the cigarette habit in 1967. Over the past forty-two years I’ve told my daughters the story, many times, of how I escaped the clutches of the tobacco devils, a pox on them, and she is urging me to share my secret with others. She suggests Going cold turkey on a hot summer day as the posting title, but I actually went cold turkey on a fishing trip on a cool summer night.

Here is her e-mail:

Going cold turkey on a hot summer day (or something like that)…I’m reminded of the story you tell about how you stopped smoking after so many years…fishing and then going to the store and forgetting to get cigarettes, etc….and how much you dislike smokers to this day (and the way you express seeing a stunningly beautiful woman light up a cigarette—-ruins the entire image, etc.).

In the spring of 1967 after ending our work day on Friday, a co-worker and I loaded up our fishing tackle and our 15-horse Evinrude outboard motor and headed for Medina Lake some 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas. We had to rent a boat at the lake but we owned the motor, having purchased it at a south-side San Antonio location which levied no tax on us—the seller declined to tender a receipt for the sale, so we were always in doubt as to whether the transaction was legitimate. A few months later my fishing partner relocated to South Carolina and I bought his interest in the motor for $32.50,the same amount he originally contributed.

This is not a plug for Evinrude, but that motor was a fine piece of fishing equipment, one that could be configured with the flick of a lever to produce three, seven or fifteen horsepower. If they don’t make ’em like that anymore, they should.

Friday night was our fishing night, year-round, rain or shine, heat or cold, sick or well—we overcame every obstacle (except sickness in his family or mine) to make the outing. We usually left the lake around midnight, but on one very special night early in the spring of 1967, we fished into the wee small hours of the morning, and I inhaled the poison from my last cigarette several hours before we returned to the city. We lived in the suburbs and in our area nothing was open at that hour. Convenience stores (they were called “ice houses” in those days) were all closed and all-night restaurants were rare—I had no place to go for cigarettes.

At this point I did not intend to stop smoking, although I was well aware of tobacco’s effect on health. Of course, I planned to stop at some point—in fact I never bought cigarettes by the carton—I bought only one pack at a time, rationalizing that if I bought a carton I might decide to stop smoking and the money spent on the unused cigarettes would have been thrown away—some really bright reasoning, right?

Somehow I made it through Saturday without cigarettes. Saturday was lawn-mowing, shrub-clipping, car-washing, child-tending and house-keeping day (my wife worked on Saturday), and I delayed going for cigarettes until late in the evening. At that point I began to seriously consider breaking the habit—rather I seriously considered trying to break the habit. I decided to see if I could make it through Sunday without smoking. I was buoyed by the fact that I would, on my way on Monday to work at Kelley Air Force Base I would pass near the Lackland Air Force Base cafeteria where I could get cigarettes (cost on base back then was nineteen cents a pack, $1.90 a carton).

You can probably guess my secret for kicking the cigarette habit. Having entered my second day without smoking, I decided to see if I could survive for two days without cigarettes, so I breezed past the cafeteria without stopping. The rest is history—I kicked the habit by going without nicotine one day at a time—days became weeks, weeks became months and months became years, forty-two of which have passed since my last cigarette, and only God knows how many more years I will have to tell my story of being a non-smoking, non-wheezing, non-coughing ex-smoker—regardless of the number of years I may have, I suspect it would be far fewer had I not stopped smoking in 1967.

So this is my secret—this is the system I used to break a killer habit:

In my brief—very brief—service in the Boy Scouts of America I learned that one can successfully reach a destination—any destination—by establishing and reaching a series of goals. On a 12-mile hike away from town and back, I learned to establish a short-term goal and look forward to its attainment, rather than looking forward to arriving at my destination. On the hike I looked ahead and picked out a goal—a large tree in the distance, or a hill or a bridge or any other object on the horizon, a goal that I could easily attain—I only needed to keep walking, telling myself that if I needed to rest I could rest under that tree or bridge, or at the foot of that hill. And when that goal was attained, I selected another, and another, and another until I arrived at my destination.

That’s my secret, and each of us has the ability to do the same—simply never say never—never say that you will never smoke another cigarette. Set a goal to not smoke for just one hour, then for one day, one week, one month and one year and continue to attain and set new goals—the chain of smoking will be broken and will remain broken if you continue to set your sights on another goal—I have set my sights, after smoking for 22 years, on completing 50 years of not smoking, and when I reach that goal I’ll select another, and if I fail to reach that goal it will be for some reason other than returning to the cigarette habit.

So far there is nothing spectacular or unique about my breaking my dependence on tobacco, but there is a Page Two of my story. In the same year in which I stopped smoking, I reduced my overweight nicotine-saturated body from 175 bloated pounds to a trim 140 pounds, completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree and was graduated by the University of Nebraska, and stood by and supported my wife during her two major surgeries, all without the comforting solace of the smoking habit I had cemented into place over a period of 22 years.

I firmly believe that if I could break the habit without resorting to therapy, nicotine patches, psycho-analysis, hypnosis, joining an anonymous tobacco-oriented group similar to AA—in short, if I could stop smoking under all that pressure without any outside assistance at all, and forty-two years later remain free of nicotine’s grip, anyone can do it.

As an afterthought I will now address my daughter’s statement that my “seeing a beautiful woman light up a cigarette ruins the entire image.”

I must rebut that statement, at least in part—the entire image is not ruined—I still look, but only in fascination of the manner in which the smoker acts, from extracting the cigarettes from the purse, then from the pack, then the lighting, the trip to the lips, the drawing, inhaling, exhaling, flicking the ashes and finally grinding out the cigarette.

All hard-core smokers have their personal way to indulge their smoking habit. Over several years of duty at Kelly Air Force Base, I took frequent morning coffee breaks at the base cafeteria. On many mornings I had the privilege of watching (surreptitiously, mind you) a stunningly beautiful woman enjoy her coffee and a cigarette. She was always alone, and always smoked just one cigarette with her coffee, finishing both at the same time.

Other than enjoying her stunning beauty (surreptitiously, mind you), I was fascinated by the practiced way she smoked. On every draw from the lighted cigarette with her pursed lips, she inhaled deeply and held the smoke for a seemingly interminable length of time. Finally a small puff of smoke escaped from the left corner of her mouth. A few seconds later a second small puff from the same outlet, and a final small puff (same source) emerged after a few seconds more. After those three small puffs, similar to the manner in which Native Americans (Indians) covered and uncovered a fire to produce smoke signals, her mouth remained closed for another thirty seconds or so and then her lips parted slightly to slowly set free the rest of her draw, at least that part which did not remain in her lungs.

I wondered then, and continue to wonder, whether the timed sequence of puffs could have actually been a message, something akin to, Hey, look at me, I’m here, let’s get it on!, but unfortunately I had no Native American (Indian) friends—as a matter of fact, I did not then know, nor do I now know, any Native Americans (Indians).

I’m not making this up—on several occasions I told the person or persons who may have been having coffee with me to watch the smoker. I told them exactly what to expect, from the draw to the exhaling, and I was right-on every time. My daughter is correct—I am affected adversely when I see a beautiful woman light up a cigarette. Although the act does not ruin the entire image, it is definitely a turn-off for me.

Of course at my age and my stage of life, a turn-off is really not necessary, but if it were, the cigarette would do the job.


 
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Posted by on June 27, 2009 in cigarette smoking, Humor

 

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Progress in North Central San Antonio

I awoke this morning at 2:56, a time not unusual for me. Normally when I awaken I am fully alert and ready to arise, and this morning was no exception. Immediately after awakening I heard six loud “pops,” the sound of gunfire. No, I did not confuse the sound of firecrackers with gunfire (today is April 6, not July 4), nor did I confuse the sound of auto exhaust backfire with gunfire.

It was gunfire. I am very familiar with the sound, a familiarity developed during 22 years of military service including combat tours in the Korean “Conflict” (1950-1952) and the Viet Nam War (1969-1970), and another 26 years of service as a federal law-enforcement officer.

This morning at 2:56 I heard five “pops” in quick succession, then a pause and then a final “pop.” The sounds came from behind me and to my left, placing their origin in the western portion of the up-scale apartment complex behind my home.

My first thoughts were, “Five quick ones to down the target, then a final one to administer the “coup de grace” (I know what you’re thinking—you’re thinking that I’ve been watching too many gangster movies). Possibly—but I’ll be watching for the report in our local newspaper and on our local “blood and guts” television news channel, and I’ll “get back to you later with more details.”

The gunfire was not followed by a motor being gunned and the sound of screeching tires, so it wasn’t one of San Antonio’s frequent drive-by shootings. Drive-by incidents in apartment complexes are unusual (I don’t recall any in San Antonio) primarily because of the difficulty in executing the numerous high-speed turns required to successfully exit the complex with its crowded and crooked thorough-fares.

Yep, progress has come to North Central San Antonio. Night-time gunfire is common in many neighborhoods in other sections of the city, especially on the near south-side, near east-side and near west-side—sometimes the gunfire comes from private-party goers over-celebrating, or from disputes between individuals but many, perhaps most, incidents are the result of drive-by shootings. Some families in such areas refrain from sleeping in rooms which front the street, and some even refrain from spending too much time in such rooms at other times, even during daylight hours.

Yep, progress has come to the North Central section of San Antonio. At the risk of being politically incorrect and fully realizing that censure may follow, I attribute this particular “progress,” at least partially, to such factors as Hurricane Katrina (people displaced by the disaster and relocated to San Antonio) and to the migration of persons from the inner city to outer sections of the city. Cities grow in concentric circles—newcomers initially are drawn to the inner city, then expand outward as economic conditions permit.

FYI, a civics professor taught me the “concentric circle theory of city growth” in a course I took while attending  the Municipal University of Omaha. I was somewhere in the middle of the last class to graduate (1968) before the city college became UNO (University of Nebraska at Omaha).

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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