Armchair Peregrinations

October 16, 1999

This is an entry about depression. It is not pretty. I have written it in part because it helps me gain some closure on the most recent episode. This illness has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It is part of who I am. It has shaped my life in many unforeseen and terrible ways. But it has been followed by periods of happiness and contentment beyond what I could have ever imagined I would experience, and with self-knowledge that would not have come any other way, in all probability. It is more than a physical illness. It is also a sickness of the spirit, of the soul, as Kierkegaard might say.

But I can write about it. The intensity of the actual experience does not even begin to lend itself to words, and so this is, at best, an imprecise and inadequate depiction of what actually happened to me. It was painful writing it, but in a strange sort of way, I felt compelled to. I will probably write more.

Finally, I have written what follows also to reveal that in the midst of seemingly unending pain, there is hope, and as long as one is living, one can seize hope and endure, and finally, overcome.


It was late winter in 1994. A not particularly cold winter, but instead mild and containing those kinds of South Carolina February days where bare trees, leaves, and empty fields beckon you to the countryside. And there, I found the strangest kind of refuge in a most terrible period of time when I had returned home from years of wandering to settle in South Carolina for good. A job was found and lost due to an old and monstrous foe. It had attacked with a vengeance a couple of months before. What ensued was a frightening spiral into the blackest hole of depression and accompanying loss of the very person I was, so it seemed. Loss of those dear to me from whom I felt completely cut off. And loss of any real interest in anything, actually. With all that came a despair that rose and fell during long days as I struggled to hold my mind together and to steer it through those storm-tossed emotional shoals toward calmer water.

Days followed days. Week upon week. No break in the weather. Dark clouds and roiling skies. Fear gripping tight. The fear of never coming out again. The shock of being barely able to write a sentence or a check for the health insurance you know you desperately need to pay the premium on. Facing the unknown with no confidence that things will get better any time soon, if at all. No ability to concentrate on anything. Every paragraph a laborious effort to read. Books mere memories. The newspaper was about all I could tolerate with my attention span, but the news was so bad it only made my predicament seem blacker. Don't try to read the newspaper when in a period of depression.

How can I describe it? The days are like a vacuum you become sucked into at first consciousness of morning. It becomes too long to endure. You long for the night. The walls of your room become too hard to touch.

Gradually you are stunned into a kind of mental oblivion where, through no fault of your own, you see yourself at the center of this greatly disordered and disturbed world all around you. You want to get out, and so you hope that by escaping your present surroundings, even if momentarily, you can stave off the waves of agitation and fear.

At last, in that late winter of 1994, with time and distance from the epicenter starting to have their beneficial effect, when I was starting to seem some little sparkles of light at the end of the tunnel, I could get into my car and drive out into the countryside. This offered me a few precious moments, maybe an hour, of freedom and the kindest sort of distraction for a fevered mind seeking relief -- anywhere.

Five miles out of town, I turned along a dirt road. I didn't care if it was private or public. I drove a half mile or so to the edge of a cotton field, now only stubble but filled with little white, puffy balls of dirty cotton the harvesting machines had missed.

I stopped the car at the edge of that field one late, late afternoon nearing sundown. It was quite cool, but not cold, and the wind was blowing over that pretty country scene out in the middle of nowhere. I had a warm jacket on. I was comfortable.

I stood there alone in that huge open area with my head upturned and my eyes closed, and the cool wind caressed my face, and I breathed deeply and looked up toward the bare trees in the distance. The wind was steady. A friend I loved so much at that moment of rescue. I remember this like it was yesterday. I pulled a few clumps of cotton from the dry stalks in the field and held them for the longest time, examining them closely, breaking the dry stalks and tossing them into the wind. I didn't want to leave. I could have stayed there for hours. I didn't care what anyone thought of me.

I repeated this ritual visit to that field for three days in a row. I went to the same spot toward dusk and always got out of my car and stood there breathing deeply of that sweet country air, absorbing every molecule that entered my lungs. Again, I didn't care at all if anyone saw me standing alone in that field in the still twilight of day, receiving back a portion of the Earth. As self-conscious as I am. I can't describe the energy I received, or the sense of oneness and belonging with the Earth and the elements that I felt on those three days. It is literally indescribable to this day.

The raw cotton from that picked-over field will forever symbolize a few brief moments when I was, for a time anyway, no longer deadened by waves of anxiety and depression. I could look up ahead of me to a time when I would know the first real semblance of wellness and, hence, healing. Although I didn't realize it at the time. And although I still had a long way to go.

October 14, 1999

There is a serene and settled majesty in woodland scenery that enters into the soul, and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations.

Washington Irving

On this morning the weather was of that voluptuous vernal kind which calls forth all the latent romance of a man's temperament, filling his mind with music and disposing him to quote poetry and dream of beauty.

From The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon,
Washington Irving

I look for those kinds of mornings sometimes when I first wake up and stumble drowsily to the door and open it to the outside world, early, when it's just beginning to get light.

The first bird or two sings tentatively, greeting the pending dawn, cheering me and fillng me with little sensations of wonder and anticipation. What will the day be like outside?

In my apartment, enclosed and cocooned from the outside, I have no clue about that other world, emerging from darkness into the light of a new day, and what it will say to me first thing. Sometimes, if I go outside for just a little while, I am briefly, almost casually awestruck. The sky is streaked with color, for on most days there are at least some clouds for the sun's paint palette. They soon dissipate, especially on warm, humid summer mornings. But those clouds and that early light give me a quick, fleeting impression of what I can make of the day to come, or not make of it. Will it be a missed opportunity?

But today, there are too many clouds. I didn't get up early, and the fully-arrived morning greeted me with sunshine for just a short while. Now it is mostly gone. It's so unusual for it to be this cloudy, for this many days in October, our bright, dry, autumnal time of year. It's not even cool yet, so I must content myself with looking forward to the change of seasons. We've had some nice previews, but nothing much to convince me that Fall is really here.


In upstate North Carolina this past Saturday, I walked a trail to a covered bridge alongside a creek, a few feet wide and with just enough water flowing in it to produce some very pleasant and soothing sounds as it flowed over smooth stones and rocks. It was so nice to look down from the trail and watch that creek flowing along, but also to feel embraced by the tall trees which surrounded me with warmth and peace. I could look into those woods and see the individual trees, and the forest floor where the last light of the day was dimly illuminating fallen leaves. It was just beginning to appear as it Autumn was coming to these woods, for the tree branches were flecked with yellow here and there. But it was still a summer-looking forest for the most part.

I didn't leave the trail except ot wander down to the larger stream underneath the covered bridge. It was much wider, about 15 feet, and was still and slow-moving. Again, I tried to notice the individual trees and how they seemed to stand alone amid the forest, inspired creations of Nature's munificence.

A tree
Predestined to beauty.
Blown leaves.
Light lost. Light found.

Vernon Watkins

October 11, 1999
N. Wilkesboro, N.C., and other locations in the rural, western part of that state, Oct. 9:

10 a.m. -- It's been a very cloudy day, but beautiful countryside we've driven through. Getting up toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rounded hills, a lot of hardwood forests getting ready to change color. Haven't been here since 1987 when I visited Stone Mountain State Park to photograph the waterfalls there. It's been that long.

So it was good to be back in upstate North Carolina. Quite a contrast and different way of looking at the world up here compared to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. It was nice, for instance, to walk a trail through woods, alongside a creek, flowin gover rocks, narrow and winding toward the larger creek nearby. Spanning that larger creek was an old covered bridge dating to 1890. The solid wood beam construction is amazing. Of course the interior had the obligatory inscriptions from young people in love (I'm assuming they were young people; maybe some old timers, too). You know what I mean, "Mike Loves Cathy," that sort of thing. I tried to imagine the horse-drawn wagons making their way over the planks, or the old Ford Model T's. Or later, the spiffy new Chevy Bel-Airs, circa 1956 and '57. Hard to visualize anything too wide crossing that narrow bridge.

Last night I visited a museum located in the former courthouse of a town square. The grounds were covered with huge oak trees, just starting to turn yellow for autumn.

A little while ago, the group I am with toured a local manufacturer of saw, hammer and grist millls. It's always overwhelming to go inside a machine shop and see all the steel, lathes, grinders (?), castings, nuts, bolts, etc. (Now I'm more familiar with these last couple of terms, but not much). I thought to myself, here people work at jobs where they build things from raw materials. These are people who can figure things out, make things work, put things together. Just eveything I'm not and can't do. You can just picture the people at work using the equipment. And it just boggles the mind to envision the inventors who created all this machinery and these tools. I can only feebly attempt to picture them trying to take the vsion of what they see and translate it into a practical, workable machine or product.

Just saw my first maple turning red. Fall is here. At last!

11:15 a.m. -- I'm looking out at one of the prettiest streams I've ever seen. The water's low. It's flowing over flat boulders, much of it having traveling down the tail race canal at the grist mill here where the water wheel is turning steadily under the force of the water. People are loading the backs of pick-up trucks with 50-100 pound sacks of freshly ground corn and other grains. Probably it's mostly corn. I'm sometimes tempted to buy a small 2-lb. bag of cornmeal, but then, what would I do with it? The mill store had all kinds of small books with the most wonderful sounding bread recipes. People who buy this freshly ground grain know the exquisite texture and taste of good homemade bread, hot from the oven with butter on it. I wish I could bake bread.

There are a lot of white oaks all around -- one of my favorite trees. I don't get to see them very often.

12 noon -- The mill we're at now has been converted into a house. I really like the setting. There's a beautiful little creek with a waterfall over part of the dam. Only problem is, this is factory chicken-growing territory, so you know the birds are around in great quantities in their long houses, thousands of them. The wind is next to nothing today so we didn't smell too much. People live right next to these urbanized coops. Raising all that chicken for Colonel Sanders and Mr. Holly Farms. Gotta have those Chicken McNuggets.

This is the first time I've ever been on a bus tour. I did it because a very special organization is sponsoring it, and all the places we're going to are down backroads, and I'd really have needed my county atlas to find them. The drivers know this countryside intimately. They're from here. These buses went down dirt roads you'd never imagine one could maneuver along. We parked in the grass down by a creek at one site, and then when we tried to leave, the wheels started spinning. Visions of a mammouth tow truck loomed in our heads as we apprehensively strained forward in our seats, reflexively. The driver gently got us out of there, finally, after we almost backed into the creek.

I probably won't do another bus tour again unless I'm much older and too unadventurous to drive these types of backroads anymore. I hope that doesn't happen. Or else, I'm simply a nice, easy-going senior citizen who just wants to have a bunch of people to talk to and go along with. I doubt I'll be like that, either. Right now, I can see I'm not too cut out for group tours. I tend to not want to follow the talks and end up going off by myself to photograph the historic sites and surrounding landscapes. Never much of a joiner. The people are real nice. I'm just kind of used to being by myself. No nice couple from Ohio has looked sympathetically at me and taken me under wing. Oh, well. Really, I want to be off exploring these roads on my own. But now, at least, I know what's up here.


There are two types of grist mill afficionados, and others, of course, fit in between. I'm at one extreme, the people around me talking are at the other pole. I like the aesthetic and historical aspects, the setting and overall ambience, the reverie-inducing, poetry-inspiring qualities of grist mills. The history of the area they're located in interests me, as well. Being someone who has always felt he would be very comfortable living in the late 19th century, I just like the sense of knowing history is preserved when I'm at an old mill site. All around me there's been a lot of discussion about how mills are operated, restored and built. Technical considerations and minutia. It's beyond me. A young guy in early 20s, I would guess, was on the tour. He gave a presentation the day before about his experiences working as an apprentice to a millwright. He had a notebook with him wherein he made drawings and comments. Obviously, he is interested in how those old mills work, inside and out. It was so nice to see someone that young interested in preserving a time-honored craft, one which would die out if it weren't for people like him. I'm glad for the practical folks because otherwise there wouldn't be any of these historic sites left to see.

1:30 p.m. -- This is the most beautiful setting so far on the trip. I'm sitting on a stone and concrete wall, looking at a little stream which flows over rock ledges to form a series of small waterfalls. Huge oaks on a hill rise up in back of me. I hear the waterfall nearest me, a gentle sound in the background. There's a big sycamore tree right in front of me. Its leaves are going from green to brown. No color here. I could sit and watch that slow-moving current all afternoon.

Back on the bus. Everyone's spirits are up after this last stop with box lunches to eat on picnic tables overlooking the stream. Some people here struck up conversations with me, just friendly banter. It was nice. Back to my quiet thoughts for now.

The people in back of me just said they've taken 144 pictures. That's more than I have, by a stretch.

3:30 p.m. -- Deep in the North Carolina countryside. I'm not sure I'd even be able to find some of these places we've visited. Unfortunately, the skies are still overcast, but at least it makes for good, even lighting. I've just photographed a mill pond with autumn trees and leaves reflecting in it. I'm feeling about as far away from Charleston as it's possible to feel. We've traversed some really picturesque and scenic roads. The woods, hills, and trees, the farmhouses and abandoned barns, the yellow ragweed and Queen Ann's Lace, the small towns with their main streets and curiously quaint town squares and brick commercial districts -- it's all been a feast for the senses. It's been such a great opportunity to travel to a place far enough away from home to get a feel for the roads and countryside beyond the place I call home. But it was good to get back, I'm thinking to myself now as I post these words in my journal. I'm ready to take another trip in the spring to Tennessee, and this time I'll have an atlas and only my car and my traveling imagination.

October 7, 1999

I stepped outside to a cool, early October morning. It was around 8 am. I saw a high school student going to his car. The beginning of another school day for him. The start of another work day for me.

I thought about how little I actually remember about my own high school days. I guess the best time I had during that period had nothing to do with intellectual excitement or achievement. It was working on the school yearbook, writing, designing pages, and being involved in *something* for the first time in my scholastic career. That was a good time. It was during my senior year. I have good memories of that.

Here's what else pops into my mind about high school: eating lunch in the cafeteria with some of my acquaintances (looking back I can't say we were really friends because we had nothing at all in common -- I had no interest in computer programming); a poem appearing in the school literary anthology that had been submitted unbeknownst to me by my 11th grade English teacher (so much for authorial rights); memorizing answers to biology questions to give back on tests; and learning formulas and equations in geometry, algebra and chemistry.

I remember doing almost all the work for my group projects in sociology because no one else wanted to work on them or didn't care to. It was endemic. I was interested, and I wanted to be busy with something constructive, so I cared about getting them done. A student/acquaintance wrote in my yearbook, "Thanks for doing all those sociology reports I didn't have to work on." That kind of summed up a lot of the high school academic mentality. Not that students weren't somewhat justified in taking such attitudes because teachers were so pitifully inadequate to the job. And I went to one of the better high schools. So it was thought.

I recall there were long, dull afternoons spend doing nothing much after the busy work or lectures were done. So I'd gaze out the window to the residential street in the old Algiers section of New Orleans, longingly thinking about the end of the day. How I envied the people I saw sitting on their porches becasue they were not in school and were free, free at least from the requirements of being in school. And each day after lunch, as I've written before, I'd climb the stairs to the third floor and pass under a skylight that let brilliant sunshine and blue sky into that dreadful old building from a small opening, and that would be my other connection to freedom. I'd sometimes stop and look up into that skylight, wistful and sad because school was never a very happy place to be.

And I was an honor student. Good grades. Motivated. Motivated not to fail, that is.

So I thought I saw a dull expression on that kid's face this morning. Or maybe it was just my mood. I should have been feeling pretty good. The air was so cool and brisk. Not really chilly and not quite full-fledged autumn, but getting there fast. There wasn't anything bad in particular going on at work.

But I don't know. That youth getting ready to go to school for some reason just brought back some quick and fleeting memories, or rather, mental images from my high school days. I am now sitting here reflecting that there was not much intellectual stimulation or ferment, little enthusiasm for learning, or at least, little appreciation of what I should want to learn or expect in the way of growing in knowledge. And since I was firmly on the outside, the perimeter, of all the established social groups and cliques, I was somewhat isolated, although I did have my share of friendly and vacuous banter with various acquaintances and co-workers on the yearbook.

There were too many mind-numbing teachers and dull, listless textbooks. No computers or Internet. No Socratic method. No learning by doing and experiencing. But I did all my work and made good grades and was as prepared as the next person in the college prep tracks because all the college instructors and professors were teaching and grading the way they were taught.

In the sixties my junior high and high schools were classic industrial era, factory-model institutions, designed to herd the maximum number of students into the minimum amount of space where they could be socialized and indoctrinated into the dominant culture. For most it succeeds and still does, outwardly. Most students today graduate from high school, with wildly varying levels of education. Most people find conforming niches within society: traditional colleges, marriages, jobs, careers and, until recent years, families. Careers aren't too stable anymore what with people now having about four in a lifetime as opposed to one or two in years past when there was actually such a thing as "job security." But mostly, the educational mistakes we grew up with are repeated, people follow established routes to what is perceived as "success." Or try to. When they fail, the consequences are often disastrous, especially in a gun-riddled and violent society with a positively loathesome mass entertainment industry and culture.

So, since we can't abolish the factory model for political reasons, and relegate the large comprehensive high school to the dustbin of history, what to do?

I was a teacher for a few short years in a situation which gave me the maximum amount of automony with the fewest possible students. The results were what I iealized education and teaching to be: personalized and cooperative, where teachers came to know students very well and where the school itself was a kind of extended family. If I found myself shirking my responsibilities and teaching in the same old tired way I had been taught, then that was my fault, my responsiblity. I had much creative license and I was not teaching to help students learn to do well on standardized tests. I wasn't "teaching to the tests," in other words, as many public school teachers had to do.

In lieu of smaller, compassionate and de-instiutionalized schools, here is what I would suggest. It's based on what a number of thoughtful education reformers have proposed over the years. I think we should abolish the 12th grade altogther and direct students into specialized schools geared to the arts and humanities, sciences, and vocational-technical fields. Reduce by half, at least, the number of students in classrooms, and reduce by at least that much the size of schools. Hire teachers from the professions or who have degrees in subject specialty areas such as history, English, philosophy or chemistry and physics. Require only a minimum number of eduational methods courses of prospective teachers. Ground students in the basic skills, emphatically, by the 8th grade. Prepare them for life after that. Let students decide what courses of study to pursue once they've met the requirements for reading and writing skills. Let them follow their own paths and succeed, or fail and try something else. Just like later in life. Use mentors in the classroom, adults in the community who want to share their life's work and experiences with students and who are good role models.. Involve parents and give students the opportunity to have a hand in shaping their own destinies. Don't condescend to them. Treat them with respect. If they don't reciprocate, repeatedly disturb the educational environment for others, or become juvenile criminals while attending school, cut them loose. It can be a hard, cold violent world out there. Let them find out what the social service and criminal justice bureaucracies are like. Many already know what life on the street is like. Many don't. That would be an education.

Let's face it. Schools exist to socialize and indoctrinate, as well as to educate. Doesn't it seem odd that it takes so very many years to educate a student? Isn't it more likely he or she is being prepared to fit into society or play an established or pre-ordained role?

Obviously, society can't function without anarchy occurring if there are millions of autonomous indivduals rejecting the larger society completely. Educators know this only too well. The powers that be know this.

The question is: How do we provide education for the masses of students that both inculcate the positive benefits of sharing and working cooperatively with others in society as part of the overall system (until there's a better system), while at the same time valuing autonomy of thought and action? They don't have to be mutually exclusive. But a 1-3,000-student, state-of-the-art high school breeds conformity and intolerance. They're a sham and a disgrace. Everyone eventually falls through the cracks in those factories. Often they don't even know it.

October 3, 1999

Cherish the land, walk in beauty...
Subtitle of the book David Muench's Arizona

He is most noted for his photography of the West, the magnificent canyons, mountains, rivers and deserts of Arizona, Colorado and Utah. But David Muench has for many years traversed all parts of this country looking for and photographing the natural beauty of the country in a way that is breathtakingly orginal and beautiful. From small state parks in West Virginia and Maine, to the temperate rainforests of the Olympic National Park, he has the sought the sublime in Nature and found it everywhere.

His photos have appeared for many years in Sierra Magazine, Arizona Highways, National Geographic, Audubon and Outdoor Photographer. His large-format camera has captured the landscapes and features of those places with such exquisite detail and intricacy, that one is drawn into them and seems to be in those places.

I love to look at his photography. It is peaceful and helps me put things in better perspective sometimes. Here is the site where you can see some of his work: David Muench Photography. Click on the link on the right that says "Stock Photography."

October 2, 1999

Sitting in the morning sun
I'll be sitting when the evening comes
Watching the ships roll in
Then I watch them roll away again, yeah

I'm sitting on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
I'm sitting on the dock of the bay
Wasting time...

Look like nothing's gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can't do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I'll remain the same.

"Sitting on the Dock of the Bay"
Otis Redding

College of Charleston, Sept. 30, 4:30 pm

It's late in the afternoon, and I'm taking my dinner break from work at the College of Charleston. It's great to be sitting out under the pecan trees and have a few minutes of quiet before heading back. There's a cool breeze, mockingbirds have been singing, and one of them is making a kind of funny noise in the tree next to me. It's amazing how many different sounds those birds seem to come up with.

I indulged in a guilty pleasure just a little while ago. I don't do it often, but I got a Whopper, fries and Coke from the Burger King at the student center. I wasn't that hungry, and I'm really trying to step eating red meat, but it's difficult. Lifetime habits are hard to give up. Sometimes you just want to get a Whopper. The fries were hot, right out of the cooker as I watched. Good. The Whopper was perfect -- just enough ketchup, not too much mayonnaise, so I felt somewhat less guilty, but now I'm sitting here sort of regretting what I ate, what with the fat content, salt, etc. But Whoppers are a comfort food for me. They bring back certain very pleasant associations from long ago. I'll tell you why.

When I was in 11th grade, I was standing at the school bus stop one morning when the doctor across the street from my house stopped and asked if I wanted to work as an usher in a new theater he and a few other partners were opening, as a tax shelter or some other gimmick, probably. It would pay the minimum wage of $1.25 an hour, plus all the popcorn I could eat. I think we must have eaten a lot of that delicious stuff since we ended up spending half our time popping it.

Anyway, I told him "Sure," I'd do it. I was mowing lawns and could use a little extra spending money. After all, I had been saving up for college for years, and a little discretionary income wouldn't hurt.

Now, I've learned something over the years about entrepreneurs: they will invariably pay not one nickel over the minimum wage if they can possibly get away with it. Of course when you're 17, it's flattering to be offered a job, any job, especially if its by the doctor neighbhor. Not that I knew him too well.

Oct. 2, 1 am: (The story continues) So, a couple of weeks later I was installed at the entrance to the theater, in my spiffy gold blazer and bow tie, tearing ticket stubs and making popcorn, patrolling the aisles looking for unruly miscreants, and, when I was done with all that, sitting in the very back row watching whatever movie was playing. This was in the days before the multi-mega-superplexes of 8,10,16 little theater-boxes bunched together. In those days, theaters were BIG and had big screens. I think, all told, I watched "The Dirty Dozen" with Lee Marvin about 15 times; "Thoroughly Modern Millie" with Julie Andrews about 20 times, and "The Happiest Millionaire" with Fred MacMurray and Greer Garson, about 15 times also (probably more; these were big hits that year and played for many weeks). There were other movies, but I really can't remember all of them. I have to say, I got to know all the dialog in those movies, as well as the song lyrics, real well because musicals were very popular in those days. I would move my lips saying the lines or lyrics. I was pretty bored. Oh, I forgot to mention that there was one really good movie I didn't mind watching many times in the back of the theater -- "Cool Hand Luke" with Paul Newman. I just thought he was the "coolest" character I'd ever seen in a movie. It was a great story and great acting.

Also working there were a bunch of the most popular jocks and student council types at my high school, including S___, the friend and neigbhor in back of us whom I wrote about in this journal in April. Of course, I had known S___, who the next year was elected president of the student body and most popular in the class, while we were in 9th grade, and by the time we were ushering together, he had pretty much left me behind in the dust, as far as social status at that school was concerned. I guess we still talked a little bit, but not much. He didn't have time for me anymore, but he wasn't snobby or ill-mannered about it. Also there was the another popular athlete who I was asked to tutor in algebra. They all hung around together. I was more or less the outsider. The doctor's son also was an usher, and he lived, as I said directly across the street and was one year older than me, but we never had anything to do with each other. He was rather obnoxious, or at least put on a lot of airs.

What does this have to do with Whoppers? Well, not a whole lot really, but just this. We would get a 10 or 15-minute break during our shifts, and I recall to this day how very hungry I'd be at that point. One of the glories of youth is having an almost unlimited appetite and feeling hunger so intensely that almost any kind of junky food seems like an epicure's delight. So, I'd walk over the to adjacent Burger King (when that hamburger chain was still a novelty in New Orleans, circa 1967), and get a juicy, heavy Whopper with everything on it. I'd take it back to the upper mezzanine of the theater, find a spot to sit down, and eat it with a relish that I remember to this day. Also, remember, the job was pretty boring, my popular classmates didn't have too much to do with me, and so this hamburger was really the highlight of my shift. I'd really look forward to that break, counting off the hours.

And, you know how there's always some song on the radio that was No. 1 at the time, and which you remember listening to on the car radio like it was yesterday? Well, during the time I was ushering in that theater, Otis Reddings's "Sitting by the Dock of the Bay" was getting constant air play. I can hear that song clearly in my mind to this day. I never got tired of listening to it, and today it's one of those oldies I don't mind hearing again and again.

I left that place after about six months, having learned a little bit about the movie theater business. My last paycheck was for a whopping $11. I don't know why I did it, really, except that it seemed like something different to do. To earn a little money. It was an insignificant amount. Why do we do so many of the things we do as teenagers anyway?

Two years later, I was a student at the University of New Orleans, living in the high-rise collection of cubicles called Bienville Hall. Supper was long a memory about 10 pm when I'd return from studying at the libary, again hungry and ready to eat. So, I'd get on my run-down bike and head to the Burger King on Elysian Fields Avenue, about three blocks away, and always, I'd return with a Whopper and fries. Oh, how good they tasted after cafeteria food. Remember, I was young. I was in college. I could eat almost anything without worrying about the consequences. Weight problem? No way, not when you're 6'2" and weigh 150 pounds. Those were the days.

Now yesterday, as I munched slowly on my Whopper at the College of Charleston, not too excited about it, I could only look back in awe at the days when feeling hunger was a very big thing that demanded to be satisfied. Had to have that Whopper at 10 pm. The fries were good, too.

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