Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Passion: A Study in Contrast?

After I taught class today, I went to check my email in the dinky little adjunct office. An older man I'd seen in there once before was there again. Being in such a small space together and not at least greeting one another would be very awkward. I asked him, in my cheesy I-don't-know-what-else-to-say way: "Is it the weekend yet?"

He's got some hearing loss and thought I'd asked him how his weekend was. I got to hear all about his trip to San Francisco for an opera performance, and how the trip back was very complicated because of some bomb threats at the Oakland airport. He said hundreds and hundreds of people were standing outside the terminal in the baking sun, having been evacuated.

We started talking, and I asked him where he taught before he came to the community college. "How much time do you have?" he asked. I said "Plenty." He gave me a 10-minute history of his life. High school drop out. Went back to college. Got multiple degrees. He's taught at big universities all over the midwest and east coast, thoroughly enjoyed picking up and moving to the next job for better money and more adventure. His field was mainly comparative literature, but he also taught French and Spanish. For five years he worked as a hospice caregiver in Scottsdale, then long after retirement, picked up teaching again as an adjunct.

His main passion through his whole life, he says, has been the opera. While working in New York City he once flew to Venice for a weekend, for a single opera performance, then right back home. While living in Africa (I didn't get to hear about that adventure) he flew to New York City for the same reason. Then immediately back a day later. Opera has provided the vivid colors in his life, year after year after year. It has been not only a passion, but a consuming one and listening to him talk about it kept me happily locked into the moment as though he were a campfire I was staring into.

He looks like a man in his late 60s, around the same age as the toothless South Carolinian with the chihuahua and the "issues." However, the opera guy told me he's coming up on his 83rd birthday. Is it his great love for opera, or for anything, that has kept him "young?" That has to have something to do with it, right?

And now he's teaching beginning Spanish to community college students who probably don't appreciate him much, but I don't think that matters to him. There was a sense that he knows he's lived his life exactly the way he's wanted to, and dipped the wooden bucket deeply into the well of what inspires him.

I couldn't help wondering how things would go if he were trapped in an elevator with the guy from the Booth o' Knives. Both are passionate men. One loves "Carmen" and world travel and academia; the other loves helpless, abused miniature dogs and racial slurs and knives. What would they talk about? Would they despise each other or find common ground?


  • At 12:47 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Bet the opera guy would come out on top in all venues. Sounds like a versatile fella. Gives a dropout like me hope!

  • At 8:38 AM, Blogger Jerry said…

    I have been amazed many times in my life by people who appeared to be less than ordinary, but who had seen and done extraordinary things.

    When I was bagging groceries in Daytona Beach (circa 1962) I met a woman who was about 85 years old. She was resting on a sofa we had provided for older folks who needed to get off their feet. Her husband had been a psychoanalyst in Vienna and she had partied with Freud and undergone psychoanalysis with him.

    In 1965, I met an artist who had crossed the Atlantic with Gertrude Stein and had drank Pernod with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    Had you passed either of these people on the street, you would have dismissed them as doddering oldsters, perhaps ex-government clerks.

    Most of us do not live our lives in "quiet desperation," but we live them in tiring normalcy, dispirited convention. We will never fulfill romantic fantasies.

    Perhaps the adventures of others only appear to be romantically attractive; maybe there is no romance in living, only the fantasy. My cousin has been all over the world; she has seen every major city and spends two weeks in Provence every summer.

    She has not changed one iota in 30 years. There is no sparkle in her eye, no charming conversation reflecting her sophistication and worldly experiences. No moral or ethical or philosophical or aesthetic insights whose incisive wisdom sparkle and illuminate.

    Damn I hate reality.

  • At 9:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You know, hearing that man's stories would be something worth making the drive to that school. What an interesting guy! And you're right. There is something interesting, in a twisted sort of way, about "Booth O' Knives" guy as well.

    And the funny thing is, I suspect that if the two were in an elevator together, the old South Carolinian would be the one looking down on the world-traveling opera enthusiast. At least, it often seems that is the way things go.

    As for Jerry's cousin, I wonder if she travels to all of those places because she genuinely wants to experience the people and the culture, or rather because she can say that she has been there and people would be impressed.

  • At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    jerry's story and futuresis's response remind me of what Anna's sister and brother in law call people who seem to start every sentence with "when i was in..." ... 'wiwi's' (pronounced wee wee's) ...

  • At 10:09 AM, Blogger Jerry said…


    My cousin has been everywhere in the world--some places like France over 20 times--because her husband worked for Delta Airlines for 30 years and retired with full privileges.

    She is an unassuming country girl. The point I was making is that travel seems to be an interesting activity, but seeing the world's varying cultures does not seem to serve as a means of moral development. No wisdom seems to accompany the variety of experiences.

    Just an observation.

  • At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jerry--Sorry for making assumptions. Glad to hear that your cousin is not a "wiwi."

    But in both cases (wiwis and folks like your cousin) I think that what you said about travel being just an interesting activity is the common element. People travel with no interest of personal development. In some cases, they have no desire to use the experience to dig deeper into the place or themselves. They may realize that the opportunity is there, but they just don't particularly care. In other cases, I think it never occurs to them to do so.

    I have to confess that I grew up in a small Midwestern town and before joining the military, I had no idea how much living in other places and traveling to other places could change me. I am so thankful for all of the experiences, both the good and the bad. In many cases, I had to be hit over the head, figuratively speaking, in order for my eyes to be opened to the experience and the lesson.

    I love small towns. There are so many advantages to living in a small town. I am not a city girl, by any means. But I also see how small town living can cause people to inadvertently put on blinders that prevent them from seeing the richness in new places and cultures.

    I am embarrassed to admit that racism is alive and well among certain members of my extended family. And even worse, they are passing along that tradition to their children. No matter what I have said to them to tell them that what they say offends me, that they are wrong, or try to share my own positive experiences with them, they refuse to open their minds to the possibility that they could be wrong. They base their beliefs on a few events and people that they have encountered in their little corner of the world, and suddenly these events and a handful of people come to represent entire ethnic groups, all over the world. And they don't WANT to see things differently.

    Then again, my experiences away from home had me thinking that racism was starting to fade away in this country. So, I guess that I had just put on my own new set of blinders. I suppose that once I again, I had started assuming that everywhere else was much like it was where I was living at that time. It was a rude awakening. And worse that it was my own extended family that gave me the wake-up call.

    I don't especially enjoy going back home anymore. And that is sad too. But maybe I have become a snob.

  • At 1:41 PM, Blogger Citlali said…

    Futuresis: I don't think of it as becoming a snob. It seems that we all have those old places or poeple we've lived around in our past that don't fit into our lives any more. You know? We shouldn't have to spend time with people that don't respect us or others around them. That's just how I feel. Most of the time it's a case of the fact that we've grown out of the relationship or the situation. They are mired in their complacency and can't accept that others change and grow for the better (most of the time). It can happen even if you don't move away.

    In my case I've moved so many times in my life it's most surprising to find that my truest and best friend comes from a relationship that started when I was six years old. We're now thousands of miles apart and we still love eachother like we did then.

    I just did a count of the times I've moved in my life and the number of times totals 33 -- just a couple years short of my age. I've lived in two countries within eight different states; moving has been a regular thing since I was born. Everywhere there were people that discriminated for their own reasons. In my case, people that hated me couldn't stand "blond, gringas". Same crap, different colors.

    Sometimes it's hard to identify with people because of the different outlook I've acquired. Other times I really feel very ordinary. It's all just interesting. That's probably what I've gained the most: an appreciation for the "interesting" in everything.

    Recently my Sweetie and I have started making serious plans to move. We thought maybe Phoenix or Tucson to be near my father again but maybe we'll skip straight to Mexico City and live next to my sister. Then it hit me yesterday. A great idea. We've been talking about finding a source of income that's mobile -- maybe online so we can be free to travel around the country with it. Why not use that to move to Mexico? THEN we can go live in England -- my Sweet loves England. AND we can even go live in Spain -- my childhood friend lives there now. Maybe there's already people out there that have mobile jobs, like internet stores, virtual businesses. It sounds like a dream.

    It's simplistic at this point, riddled with holes of impracticality but it sounds right. We can get out there and absorb more of that cultural richness you speak of, Futuresis. And meet the more interesting people like Mr. Opera and Mr. Chihuahua. I can't wait.

    For now I enjoy my virtual travels here on the internet meeting such wonderful and interesting people like all us CandyFans. It's awesome. I really truly love reading your opinions, experiences and other stories. You guys are all very cool. = ]

  • At 3:15 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Hi all y'all. I'm at home sick today and just crawled out of bed in time for the last half of "The Bold and the Beautiful."

    What a treat to get up and see all these great comments. I knew you'd met some interesting people, Jerry, but I love hearing the details.

    I want to start a thrashing rock band and call it "Ex-Government Clerks." They would bust up guitars and throw big cumbersome briefcases into the crowd.

    Futuresis, I didn't get to spend nearly enough time with you in Phoenix. We have to sit down one day and have you regale me with stories of your military life, etc. We'll be singing drinking songs before the night is over. Even if we have no alcohol.

    Citlali...33 times??!! That is amazing. Honestly, it hurts my head to even think about that!

    And once again, you've written a phrase I'd love to use for my memoir: "Riddled with Holes of Impracticality." Perfect.

    Hope you find your new place to go.

    It is now time to watch more soap operas and lament my sore throat.

  • At 4:00 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Mel, yep, he was truly inspiring. And then I came home and watched "House." :)

    C...I somehow didn't see your comment the first that word. Reminiscent of "This one time? At band camp?..."

  • At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    I think you put that perfectly when you wrote about outgrowing relationships. And you're right that it can happen even if one does not move away. I would like to think that I would have grown, even if I had never left there. However, whenever I do go back there, I always wonder if I would have grown, and I shudder to think that I might not have. Then I say a prayer of thanks to God for bringing circumstances into my life that forced me out of there. I would never have left, otherwise.

    I am looking forward to hearing about your adventures! You've moved 33 times?! And it sounds like you have plenty more moves ahead of you! Good luck! :-)

    I think that it is just incredible that you have maintained that friendship with your childhood friend, even from across the miles. Not many people are able to do that, and that is very special.


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