May You Be a Bright River in Hell

DSC02320There is no diary or journal—for all of 1980.

The whole year would be mostly a blank, save for two calendar-planners that remain. But some important things did happen: Completed a first year (toward an A.A. in Communications Technology) at Lakewood Community College, the Family Project moved out to a sprawling farmhouse in the country and, in the fall, I turned 21.

Returning to White Bear Lake after the ’79 holidays, I was feeling ready for new things. Typography class spurred an interest in calligraphy and lettering. Art projects inserted themselves into printing class assignments. And new friends were made that fall and winter.

Winter quarter at Lakewood began Wednesday, Jan. 2. I took Photography, Art History, and Philosophy with the Rev. J. Millard Ahlstrom—“Doc” Ahlstrom as we called him—an angular, white-haired, old school academic whose somewhat flinty demeanor revealed flashes of humor. He reminded me of our family friend Tom Harrison. Truth is, I loved the old guy.

Then, while shopping for required reading at the Lakewood bookstore, I met a tall, full-bearded and beaming guy named Mark Luebker, who worked the counter. While I was perusing books one day, he pulled me aside.

“Hemingway? Why would you want to read that crap?” he said.

“Because it’s on the syllabus for American Literature.”

So? Here’s the good stuff…” He led me over to the science fiction section. “Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov… that’s what you should be reading.”Pat Ciernia 1980

I’d read all that, I said, when I was much younger. However, we soon became better acquainted. He introduced me to friends Pat Ciernia (pictured at right), a whip-smart graphic artist (like Luebker, too) and Greg Johnson, a snarky, chain-smoking and snarling guy who served on the student senate.

And then there was my buddy Warren Dahl, White Bear Lake lifeguard-beach-bum-material and muscle-car driver, and my 61 Pine Street roommate Dave LaGue.

That winter we built a Miller High Life pyramid out of those golden tall boy cans, in the living room beside the TV set. We scraped together every penny and downed beers after school while munching on smokehouse almonds and watching Jimmy McNichol and gang in CBS’s cheesy teen drama California Fever.

My beautiful pictureOur kitchen on Pine Street that winter of 1980 (photo at left): electric burners on the stovetop, window sill beer bottle empties: Old Style, Old Milwaukee, Miller Lite, Miller (original recipe), Special Export, Michelob and Heineken … and a lone Perrier bottle.

Outside it had started to snow. Hoofing up to the bus stop every morning for class was wearing on me. But once home, I’d bring out the India ink, sketch pads and draw or bang away on my manual typewriter until Dave started making spaghetti for dinner.

By the time it was February, the calendar entries were packed with blue-black inked calligraphy of the day’s events: Photography assignments, papers for Philosophy class, Graphics Production Planning (heavy on the arithmetic, which bored me no end). On Saturday, Feb. 9, there’s a note to call old camp friend Lisa Tepley, and former girlfriend Jocey Hale, in the afternoon.

And then the calendar mentions a “Payday” on Friday, Feb. 22.

You see, I’d been accepted as an art department aide with a part-time stipend (which likely went to the creation of aforementioned Miller pyramid). Art department head (and my Art Structure teacher that past fall) was the goateed, bushy-eye-browed, affable, sometimes forgetful but always helpful Ken Maeckelbergh, for whom I did everything from making clay to clipping artwork and filing papers.

One day he had me put up some new artwork on the walls. Did I know how to “make little circles of Scotch tape” so they’d adhere to the walls? Yes I knew how to make “little circles of tape.”My beautiful picture

When we got talking philosophy and art, sometimes veering into literature, he suddenly referred to me as a “Flower of the Phlegethon.” I bristled a bit, then asked what he meant.

“Look it up,” he replied.

I soon discovered that the Phlegethon was a river in hell, but found no reference to any “flower.” I followed up with him, still confused.

“Yes, it’s a river, but a very bright one. You’re very bright. So you would be a flower of that river.”

I never forgot that.

After leaving school in Spring 1981, I named my first publishing venture [Flower of the] Phlegethon Publications, in honor of that creative and generous man.

~ by completelyinthedark on May 2, 2014.

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