Thursday, October 29, 2009


I watched the first hour of a movie last night. I decided that I was too old to watch the rest in one sitting. I will try again later in the week. The story line was mildly interesting. A young man, somewhat reminiscent of Orson Wells played by Thomas Jacob Black, wants to make an epic movie, but the whole project quickly begins to fall apart. By the time I got to the 59:48 point in the film, the soundman and one of the other production assistants had been brutally murdered. “A fine movie for Halloween,” I said to myself. Then suddenly, I realized that I recognized one of the actors. I was not certain who it was, but I knew that I had seen him somewhere else. The interesting thing was that the character seemed completely out of his element; that is to say, I was suspicious that his normal venue was not high drama. I stopped the movie to look at the case and discovered that I was right. The fellow normally plays outrageous comedic characters in the movies. Those of you who are his fans already know that Thomas Jacob Black is professionally known as Jack Black, the star of “Shallow Hal”, Nacho Libre”, School of Rock”, and many other comedies. In filming “King Kong”, Peter Jackson did little to disguise one of his major stars. He correctly surmised that Black’s acting talent in a serious drama would be sufficient to persuade the audience that “Carl Denham” was in the movie and not Jack Black. For my money, both Jackson and Black succeeded.

Oddly enough, I thought about the notion of effective disguises throughout the whole night. I probably dreamed about it, too, but I cannot recall everything that my brain serves up to me during those magical hours. I decided, however, that there have been four times in my life that I have disguised myself so effectively that no one was certain who was beneath the disguise.

The first time happened when I was twelve or thirteen years old. The community where I grew up had long before decided that if they wished to minimize the ancillary damage associated with Halloween they had to get the kids to a party with high-energy activities so as to burn them out before midnight. They were only marginally successful. During my thirteenth year, mother and sister thought that it would be funny to dress me up in a frilly dress that had been handed down through the family and, with the application of copious amounts of makeup and a wig, pass me off as Judie’s cousin who was visiting for the holidays. I was equipped with the usual prosthetics (oranges) and taken down to The Oaks where the party was raging. I was shy, somewhat demur I suppose. Judie had no trouble introducing me to all of the kids. I don’t remember what kind of costume she was wearing, but it didn’t make her shy or demur. The charade went on for about an hour and then I couldn’t take it anymore. It wasn’t the notion of being a cross-dresser; that word hadn’t even come into the language yet. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy not being recognized; I love a mystery as well as anyone. It was the way that the boys, my closest friends, were looking at me. They thought I was a girl. They looked at me as if I were a girl. I did not like it. I wondered if I had ever looked at a girl the way those boys were looking at me. I wondered if girls were aware enough to know how boys looked at them and if they knew what those looks meant. I decided as a young teenager that there must be a better way to appreciate women than merely ogle them.

The second effective disguise took place while Trillium and I were living in Garden Grove, California, as relatively young marrieds. We were invited to go to a friend’s house for a rather large party; scores of our close acquaintances were going to be there. I thought to go as Frankenstein’s monster, but that would have been typecasting and not much fun. I couldn’t manage shy and demur under those circumstances. Then Trillium came up with an idea. “Why don’t you go as a pile of leaves?” She brought an orange sheet, pinned hundreds of paper leaves to it, and then stuffed twenty or thirty large balloons underneath with me. By crouching down and shuffling along, my costume and I were no more than three feet tall. Just as we got to the front door, I climbed underneath the sheet, waited until Trillium was safely inside, and then rang the doorbell. Our hostess was startled by my appearance. I did not say anything, but she invited me in anyway. I made my way over to a corner and waited…. and waited…. and waited. After about an hour I gave it up. My costume was more than effective. No one had any idea who was beneath the sheet. On the other hand, I was starting to get cramps in my legs from crouching down. Additionally, I had not been able to talk to anyone the entire time, nor had I had any refreshments. A great costume, probably the best ever invented, but my brain had made promises that my body couldn’t keep. At least no one was ogling me.

The third instance happened at Purdue University. I had been responsible for helping to organize a “50s” dance for Halloween. I had all of the appropriate records and the DJ equipment. In order to make the event more fun, the committee announced that the famous DJ “Wolfman Jack” would be at the party. I eventually acquired all of the appropriate clothes, wigs, and facial hair to make the disguise work. The party started and for an hour and a half I introduced all of the records using the famous “Wolfman Jack” gravelly voice. Throughout the evening everyone around me was asking “Where’s Zaphod? He’s supposed to be in charge”. One of my conspirators, probably Trillium, spread the rumor that I had come down with the flu and was home sick. Eventually I stood up and said with what was left of my voice, “Well, I’m done!” Everyone was surprised and fun was had by all. I quit because the wig and the facial hair were driving me crazy. I was hot and sweaty from the wardrobe as well. “How does Robert Weston Smith do this every night?” I asked myself. Adding insult to injury, I was stuck with WMJ’s voice for about two weeks thereafter.

The fourth instance actually happens every morning when I get up and look at myself in the mirror. “When did this all happen?” I say. “Where is the guy who used to look back at me out of the mirror? This guy looks like he is wearing a fat suit, and it is really life-like. Someone should get an Academy Award for this!”

I guess that I am now officially in disguise at age 67. We had friends visit us a couple of years ago, friends whom we had not seen for more than twenty years. The first words out of Velda’s mouth were, “Why, Zaphod, you haven’t changed a bit! You look just like you did when you showed up on our doorstep in 1961!” I replied, “Why, Velda, you have really changed a lot. Back then you could actually see with those eyes!”

I went with the Young Men and Young Women in our neighborhood to visit Temple Square a while back. I was sitting off to the side, listening to one of the lady missionaries give her little lecture, when I was approached from behind. “Dr. Beeblebrox? Hi, I’m Seth Jones. I was in one of your classes at the University two years ago. This is my wife Jan and our baby boy, Jamie.” I said that I was happy to see him again and wished him and his family the best. On the spur of the moment I asked him how it was that he recognized me from across the Tabernacle with my back to him. “Oh! That’s easy! No one has a head shaped like yours, especially from the back.”

Who knew? I guess I am going to have to eat foods that will pad my skull if I really wish to be incognito.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Non-Singers in the Choir

When Trillium and I were young married students attending Brigham Young University, we lived in Springville, Utah. The fellow who directed the Church choir taught music at the high school and was one of the most masterful directors I have known throughout my long life. Trillium and I joined the choir along with our friends David and Jennie. I was a tenor in those days and delighted in attempting to live up to our director’s expectations. I sat next to David who, for all of his enthusiasm, was completely tone deaf. He was almost continuously off-key, but he forged ahead with great gusto. David’s clarion call of non-conformity did not go unnoticed by the director and he spent much time working with the tenors so as to get some sort of semblance of correctness from us all. I think that David was oblivious to his lack of talent and I am certain that he wondered who was singing amiss that our leader was spending so much time with us. Oddly enough, by the time we were to perform, David had managed to get within a third or a fifth of where we were all supposed to be and our director had achieve sainthood.

From time to time I have performed with other choirs and ensembles wherein someone was not quite with it. In some cases that fact was strenuously pointed out without mercy and with very little patience. Often the offender would not return after a few sessions. I knew for myself that with some effort, even the most egregiously tone-deaf singer could be whipped into line. I fear that some of these other directors and leaders did not achieve sainthood.

There have been two other talented men who have demonstrated much of the same kind of patience and kindness towards those who would be singers. Years ago I met a fellow in Southern California who had a specialized group called the Grandland Singers. Douglas Brenchley was one of those individuals who had so much enthusiasm for music that no amount of dissonance could wear him out; at least that was the case in my presence. I remember sitting in one of his choirs in the MacKay Building at UVSC when the person announcing the program mentioned Doug by name stating that my friend was capable of making broom handles sing. Being somewhat shaped like a rather stout broom handle I enjoyed the compliment. Doug has since retired from service at UVSC, but he still has occasional opportunities to lead young men and women into rather stellar performances. The notable aspect of his tenure was even though he had a premier choir that one had to audition for, yet there were at least two other choirs that anyone could join and perform in. Everyone who wished to raise their voices was allowed to do so, even though the chandeliers would shake and the fine china would rumble.

In our congregational choir here in Orem I have had the pleasure of being directed by Gordon Jessop, a cousin of Craig Jessop who for a long time directed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have watched Gordon closely and can testify as to his patience in attempting to get 35 people all singing off the same sheet of music. No one in my life has been as kind to an offending singer as is Gordon. I rejoice to be in his company. Two of my daughters and one of my grandchildren presently sing in the choir and after the first of the year I will be able to rejoin the group.

I have thought about what I might do if some unthinking soul were to put me in charge of a choir again. I have come up with a solution. Everyone can participate in this system

May we all be as creative and as tender-hearted to the gifted and to those less gifted as those who inspired this program.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I was caused to introspect today, in part because I finished a book that I have been reading for the last week or so. I usually read just before going to sleep, but the author captured my imagination so much last night that I had to finish the book today. It was a tough read; about 300 pages after the 230 I had already put away. I am an inveterate reader; I have been since I was a child. Of the books that I have in my library, I think that it is safe to say that I have read 95% of them. There is something wonderful about watching another mind work until, of course, the story becomes so fascinating that the read becomes vicarious living, as did the final half of this book.

I write as well as read. I think that some people have concluded that I write because I love the sound of my fingers pattering away on my keyboard. Hence, both the length and the unintelligibly of my pieces. The truth is that I think that I have meaningful things to say, perhaps even unique things to say, and I wish to preserve them. I started out by producing reference books. I did many of these. After composing my 1200-page doctoral dissertation, I began a project of research that ended up as an eleven-volume glossary of J.R.R. Tolkien's invented languages. Since I could not remember for very long any one of the entries, I put each linguistic element into a computer file and eventual printed them all off. The main set of seven volumes can be found in libraries all over the world, even though there are less than 200 copies of the work. It is a wonderful thing to walk into a major library where my books are prominently displayed and recognize them for what they are.

I compilied other reference works after that, having to do with my professional pursuits. Again, there was a relatively small audience, but it tickled me every time I walked into a room where one of these rare volumes was shelved.

I have written poems and short stories, some of which have actually seen the light of day, published by people other than myself. I am grateful when editors have understood and valued my take on a notion. I have delivered papers in conferences throughout the United States, in Canada, and Great Britain, many of which have been published by appreciative audiences and societies. A Google of my full name will produced a list referencing about half of what I have done during the past fifty years. The results of this sort of search will produce a six to ten-page printout. I have thought myself fortunate to have lived in a day where I can write about blood diseases, art, music, and scriptures and have those ruminations be accessed by hundreds of people located in more than fifty nations around the world. It is easy to get just a little giddy thinking about the potential. However, my reading today snapped my emotional chain just a little.

Joseph Fort Newton, a prominent Mason, has stated,

"Time is a river and books are boats. Many volumes start down that stream, only to be wrecked and lost beyond recall in its sands. Only a few, a very few, endure the testings of time and live to bless the ages following. Tonight we are met to pay homage to the greatest of all books--the one enduring Book which has traveled down to us from the far past, freighted with the richest treasure that ever any book has brought to humanity. What a sight it is to see five hundred men gathered about an open Bible- -how typical of the spirit and genius of Masonry, its great and simple faith and its benign ministry to mankind."

I read a portion of this quote in Dan Brown's latest novel "The Lost Symbol", the book that I finished today. Dan only quoted the first three sentences in Newton's opening paragraph and was intent on making a point just a little different from that of its author. I thought that it was important that you feel the spirit of the original. I am not a Mason, but I know a great deal about its history. I have had close friends who were Masons, others who were members of the Eastern Star, DeMolay, and Job's Daughters. They invariably have been good people with high standards in their dealings with their fellow men. All of these observations about Freemasonry, however, constitute an unavoidable aside.... Pardon me for that.

After reading John Fort Newton's quote in Brown's book, I think that I had a bit of a reality check. I projected myself fifty years into the future. Which, if any, of my scribblings will remain among the children of men? Some of my works are nicely bound, but I am afraid that they will not endure the ravages of time. Time and again I have been reminded of this fact and yet I am inclined to forget it. I cannot bear the reality. In the end, the ruminations and philosophies of men, mine included, will fade on brittle paper, crumble and fall away into the elements from whence they come. Who in this world would see to the copying of anything that I have written? I have concluded that probably no one in their right mind would do so.

If my writing will not endure beyond a generation, what will be the significance of my life, the things that I have learned for myself, ideas that I wished to instill in the hearts and minds of other? I would like to believe that they are worthwhile, that I am worthwhile, that every sentient being on this planet is worthwhile. I have concluded that there is only one thing that can be done. I have shared as a parent; I have taught as a teacher. These I have done with joy; I may still do so in the venues left to me. If I have done well, something of myself has been imparted, one candle lighting another, that candle perhaps eventually igniting the wicks of hundreds of other candles. The only mortal legacy that we have to offer is a little point of light, a solitary life, one flickering flame that with a little effort can be the means of driving the darkness from this lost and fallen world.