On Second Thoughts

In late summer 1980 I’d landed a job bussing dishes with my brother at the Camino Grill of Golden Valley, Minnesota’s Ambassador Motor Hotel.Lakewood_Logue_Me

I worked mostly nights (3 pm to 10 pm), while Brian punched in during the hectic breakfast schedule (6 am to 2 pm). Sometimes I also worked that shift—always leaving dead on my feet.

I wasn’t the most attentive of busboys. The whys and wherefores? I’ll get to that in a sec.

According to the 1979–80 calendar-planner, I’d put in my two-week notice at the Grill on Saturday, Aug. 16.

Back at Lakewood that fall, I was finally onboard as editorial staff at the student paper. Copy deadline for our first issue was Tuesday, Sept. 2. Classes began on Wednesday the 10th.

My contribution was a column I’d write for each issue, which I called “Second Thoughts.”

You see, I’d been reading a lot over the summer—stuff on my own: Albert Camus, André Gide, W. Somerset Maugham, The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang … So, “there were thoughts that needed expressing.” I was trying to figure out how to write like these great thinkers, and still be myself—someone I was desperate to discover.

My first piece was titled, “On Life Violently Lived.”

“At night I did not sleep,” reads the first sentence. I recall one of our copyeditors changed it to: “At night, I could not sleep.” Bullheaded young scribe that I was, I changed it back.

Even the title was meant to baffle the reader: “On life violently lived? Like ‘I aspire-to-be-an-axe-murderer violently?’” My intent, for what it’s worth, is revealed three massively long paragraphs in:

“I feared that life was short and I had to be about the business of finding my significance in it; that there should be a right and wrong way of living one’s life in spite of others who had their own wills to exercise and destinies to fulfill; that there were others who seemed the timid slaves forever tottering behind a faceless, monstrous master; in short, that life was not simple and must be violently, anxiously lived.”

Hrm. Violently, anxiously lived. What the hell was I on about?

Maybe an example will help. Here’s where our fledgling writer revisits his experience as an “inattentive” busboy at the Camino Grill:

“Once during this past summer, while working as a bus boy in a coffee shop just outside Minneapolis, I happened upon a moment of the utmost poignancy and discretion. One of the waitresses, Fran, middle-aged, always on the go and flustered about business, and a wonderful gift for the gab, had just taken orders from a table of loud, laughing businessmen, sealed to the neck in their dark sport jackets and mismatched neckties, who were her regular customers. She joked with them, of what I am not sure; whether it was that sexual innuendo that men and women push back and forth or simply that baseless, callous stock of humor that red-faced men congregated around a poker table or bar kick around. I know that she had walked away, still that quick, deep-voiced chuckle slipping out the one side of her thin-lipped mouth, to deliver the orders to the cook, when I noticed that all her overly cheerful features had dropped; her eyes were cast downward, as if she were suddenly swept into a hopeless inertia, as if a quickly passing, blood-rushing well of hurt rose to her face and lifted her vacuous eyes. Life stood there plainly for me then and I was ever-so slightly moved to know that I had witnessed its painful and yet polite, informal visit.”

That’s sure one Dagwood sandwich of a paragraph. Apparently I felt no compunction about challenging the reader’s attention span. Then or now.

Thematically, the piece is all over the map. If I had to hone in on a subject, it would be that an artist’s life must be violently, anxiously lived.

It was a self-defining time. I was beginning to surround myself with other young artists. New friends Mark Luebker, Pat Ciernia and—I’m still doubtful I can count him as one—Greg Johnson, among others, had founded a graphic artists’ group they called “Studio 1050…” (the ellipses were essential to the moniker). Johnson was one contentious bastard. At the time I was highly impressionable and insecure.

So, in my column, I backhandedly called him out:

“…I would not fall into line with the entrepreneurs of sensational, insubstantial pleasure. They are weak, indecisive and cynical young men who stalk about with a misplaced sense of heroism on their shoulders. They are overly dramatic and spiritually bankrupt. Their products, whether of the creative, practical, or political vein, reflect the offensive, willy-nilly, and immature state of their minds; which run counter to the growth, discovery and open-mindedness that youth should embrace. I want to learn. But I do not want merely to store the information and insights that I will discover as much as I want to apply them, test them.”

But how could they be tested? What did it take to even be an artist? I believed at the time that I had it nailed down:

“Without the world, the artist conducts the thunder that shakes it; other men beat drums. [The artist] understands the secret tension between the smile simply given and the smile simply taken, blowing the stolid face of a nondescript world into a bubble that stutters with life, nonsense and gaiety. If he is young, only through patience and perseverance will he mature. If he is an artist, only by looking into life’s common faces will he see … and create.”

DocAhlstromThe Logue hit the college newsstands. Silence followed. Not a word about the column.

Then, days later, Doc Ahlstrom began our Religion and Philosophy class period with an announcement.

“Has anyone read what our Mr. Maupin has written in the student newspaper?”

I looked up from my desk, surprised. Embarrassed, even.

“If not, you must.”

Then he gave me a wink.

~ by completelyinthedark on May 9, 2014.

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