JIM WILLIAMS - EMAIL | 2021 NOVEMBER 4
I was conceived on the small mythical island of Catalina, a military training ground at the time. My dad, a Congregational minister, served informally as the base's chaplain. When my time neared, Mom left to be near the navy base in San Luis Obispo. My dad took a pastorship in Hemet and sent Mom a postcard. It read, "I wrote you a long letter last night, but I left it on the nightstand in the hotel room."
Life in Hemet got off to a rocky start. My parents assumed I would be safe lying on my back in the middle of their bed. I heard the guests, felt left out, and took action. Having a good neck, I arched, twisted, plopped, and fell out of bed. They came running, kneeled, and chattered while looking for damage. I remember feeling like, "Back off! I don't need your help!" They say memories of feelings go back to in utero. In this case, the feelings were loneliness, desire for inclusion, and extreme embarrassment.
When I was old enough, my parents took me to church. Dad began to preach, and I walked up the chancel steps to keep him company. The congregants forgot all about Dad, and Mom quickly escorted me back to her pew.
Dad took me along on a visit to a parishioner. He left me in the car, an old dodge with lots of wires under the dash. I crawled up under and began to experiment. Before long, the parishioner noticed smoke pouring out of the car, and then a tow truck showed up. Luckily, my dad was a forgiving person.
One day, Mom came home and said, "Well, I'm pregnant." Dad looked worried and said, "Can't we do something about it?" Do what?
I learned what they did about it from my playmate, Jeanie Brubaker. When I came out to play, my dad was moving furniture into a truck parked in the driveway. I asked her what was going on, and she said, "Figure it out! You're moving, and I won't see you anymore." The memory of that goodbye comes back when I hear Chuck Berry's Memphis.
Long-distance information, give me Memphis, Tennessee
Help me find the party trying to get in touch with me
. . . . . . . . . . .
Last time I saw Marie she's waving me goodbye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only six years old, information please
We moved to the Victorville desert. I helped unpack boxes. Dad obtained a teaching credential. Mom spent a lot of time crying. Her life goal had been to be a minister's wife.
From what I can remember, we must have teleported from Victorville to the small town of Poway, California. Dad worked as the school principal. Mom taught kindergarten. I was her pupil.
We worried that the other kids would call me teacher's pet, so we made a pact not to let on that my teacher was also my mom. The pact held until she lovingly tucked my shirt in one day. Light bulbs went on all over the room, "Oh! She's your mom, isn't she?"
A few years later, she took my brother and me aside and explained that a "negro" couple would be coming to church. She stated that some people don't like them because of the color of their skin, but inside they're just the same as us. That Sunday, there they were in the same pew, a few seats to the left. Their skin was about the same color as South American mahogany. Nobody doesn't like mahogany.
When I was in third grade, a teenage girl accused my dad of sexually molesting her. Another kid witnessed what happened. The judge tossed the case. But Dad no longer liked being a principal. We moved to Escondido. Mom taught sixth grade, and Dad taught junior high math. I was in fourth grade, and everyone was talking about who they had crushes on. The girl who sat behind me loved to massage the souls of my feet.
In fifth grade, I read a book about Einstein and decided to spend my life discovering the secrets of the universe. Little did I know that my body had other plans.
In sixth grade, I learned from other girls and boys how babies are made. They had great fun standing around telling dirty jokes. I asked my parents for confirmation about where babies come from, and they told me about puberty. They said I would need to shave and wear deodorant. But they did not mention libido, let alone that it would forever change my interactions with the opposite sex.
Over the summer, something happened. When I went back to school in the fall, I absolutely could not believe what I was seeing. The girls — they were all stark naked! Or they might as well have been. Nobody had warned me about x-ray vision. I had not even heard the term. By the way, ladies, we guys don't try to mentally undress you. At that age, it happens instantly, effortlessly, and automatically, whether we like it or not.
For the next few years, I would turn beet red from embarrassment whenever I saw a girl. It would be many more before I finally heard the term flaming heterosexual and realized that that was what I was, I like it or not.
As a teenager, I had no idea that 16-year olds like me had amazingly poor judgment. I resented my overbearing mother to the point that one evening I hitched a ride with a cop and spent the night in a recessed doorway downtown. I did call my parents to let them know I was OK, and the next morning they brought me home. There was no punishment, only love.
Under my plan to become a research physicist, I got into honors math and took calculus courses at Palomar Jr. College in my senior year. My parents gave me a Ford Fairlane to get back and forth. Having the car gave me new ideas. One day, I imagined an ideal woman who lived up the road in Venice near Muscle Beach. She seemed real. I was tempted to go find her. But I did not have her address.
Mom picked out three colleges for me, Carleton College, Harvey Mudd, and in case those turned me down, Cal Western. Carleton promised to give students a well-rounded education. Cal Western offered an outdoor Greek theatre overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I chose Carleton thousands of miles away from my native land, California. When I got there, I soon found out that to survive, I had to load up on easy courses like math and physics. So much for a well-rounded education.
In my freshman class, there were twice as many men as women. That year, the admissions board did not know that young men and women our age were busy falling in love, finding mates, and getting married. We had no cars, and the nearest college with women was on the other side of the valley. I was unbearably lonely and turned to God.
Back then, I thought of God as some all-powerful manservant who favored me over others. I asked Him which classmate should be my lover. She turned out to be an atheist who dumped me on the third date. What is the moral? For starters, if you ask a multiple-choice question, have the decency to include "none of the above" as an allowed answer. Unfortunately, the moral I drew was that God had dramatically failed to prove his existence. I spent the next 25 years living as an agnostic.
The coursework went well, but at no time did anyone sit me down and seriously discuss my future employment options. No one asked how flexible my goal of being a physicist was. Astronomers are first cousins. If l had known that astronomers tend to be night people like me, I would have been interested.
A classmate reminded me of the imagined woman from Muscle Beach. But she was taller, and it seemed odd that her eyes were blue. My classmate was a wonderfully beautiful art-and-English major from Silver Spring, MD. The art department was just across the street from my physics classes. In my senior year, I chose to take an art course instead of the last lab course that I needed to complete my physics major.
After college, I went to U.C. Berkeley, and my wife-to-be went to the California College of Arts and Crafts. We were married by a minister who had been badly beaten on a freedom march in Selma, Alabama. Sadly, my first wife and I soon discovered a deep sexual incompatibility. I resented the life of Tantalus. It was a problem we never resolved despite the well-intended efforts of a dozen marriage counselors.
Not able to afford an apartment in Berkeley, we found a comfortable place on the edge of the Oakland ghetto two blocks from the Black Panther headquarters. Drugs and fantastic mind-expanding psychedelic art were everywhere. One Saturday night, we were treated to a talk by Timothy Leary in a huge auditorium. The smell of weed was intoxicating. His remarks about the benefits of monogamy drew thunderous boos.
Remember what my mom taught me about blacks being the same as us on the inside? That turned out to be something of an insult. There was no way James Brown could have been white.
I learned from my neighbors that many blacks succumb to racist slurs and give in to feelings of ugliness and inferiority. The Black Panthers tackled the problem with a "Black is Beautiful" campaign. Their poster child was Berkeley professor Kathleen Cleaver. One look made their point. We failed to understand their problems with cops, but today, the whole world understands. The whole world knows how George Floyd died.
A newsstand at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph sold the Vietnam Times and the London Times, both printed on rice paper. They carried the same shocking stories about the Vietnam war. Felix Greene's photo book Vietnam Vietnam! contained the unforgettable picture of a young girl's naked burning body fleeing from an American flame thrower.
I responded by becoming an assistant editor of The Bond, a bulletin about the illegality of the war. We shipped it directly to service members. Eventually, the San Francisco Chronicle wised up and began telling the same stories as the rest of us.
Unhappiness marked this stage of life. Three failed marriages — what a way to learn that you're a flop with women. May you never have such luck. Of course, it was not luck. Perhaps if I am honest about what happened, others may benefit.
After getting my degree, I found a job teaching math at BGSU in Ohio. My students learned more than students in most other classes, but I was hardly the best teacher.
My wife decided that I was in love with "some ideal fantasy woman," as she put it. Then she spent the next couple of years getting a master's degree at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Being alone, I spent evenings in the computer lab writing curve sketching programs for my students. A petite senior studied there, and we got acquainted. She was bisexual, and she soon caught on to the fact that I was homophobic. She told me about this beautiful gay nightclub in Toledo where she and her friends went on weekends.
One evening she invited me to come along, pointing out that it would be an opportunity to work on my homophobia. That Friday, she said their driver was sick and would I drive? When it came time to pick people up, she was the only one who showed. How could I have been so gullible? Unsurprisingly, she was the sexiest guy there, and I was yet to learn that whenever I went to bed with a woman, she married me.
Eventually, I told my wife. She came home for spring break. Every night we drank to forget the pain, only to have it in spades the next morning. Ending a marriage by having an affair is a pitiful way to go about it.
I wondered whether I was becoming an alcoholic and asked my doctor, who wanted to know how many drinks I had each day. I said a couple. Then I asked a drinking buddy who said, "If you try to quit and can't, chances are, you're an alcoholic." Who would want to find out they are an alcoholic? Not me. Twenty-five years later, filled with resentment and despair, I learned that denial is the chief symptom of addiction.
Not liking my job as a professor and feeling embarrassed at having a student for a girlfriend, I chose to do a post-doc in information security at UT Austin. My young lover tagged along and got a master's degree.
Her parents shelled out for a large wedding, and we drove from Austin to their home in Cincinnati. On the way, she became so moody that I had to stop for her to take a walk. I sensed that I had no business marrying her. But I could not deal with the thought of disappointing a hundred wedding guests—what a pitiful motive for marriage.
After Austin, I took an information security job at the MITRE corporation. My wife had some light-hearted flings with other women, and then I tried my luck. All hell broke loose. We stayed up arguing every night until we drank ourselves under the table. After the divorce, a Buddhist friend suggested that I try meditation.
A stranger offered me a room. We shared dinner every night and drank wine from gunboats. Before long, we ended up in bed. The sex was never that good, but she married me anyway.
Through many years of meditation, I slowly became aware of an eternal realm, a source of wisdom that I ignored at my peril. Finally, I realized that the fantasy woman I'd envisioned since high school had to be real. My impressions of where she lived over the years were most likely correct. I arranged for a three-month assignment in San Diego. Once there, I spent an entire day looking for an apartment that I could rent by the week, something with a kitchen. Finally, near sunset, I was driving along Rosecrans St. in Pt. Loma when I passed a motel with a huge sign on a wall that read exactly, "Apartments with kitchens for rent by the week."
That night, there was a golden glow in my room as I drifted into sleep. The next day the motel manager brought us together. In a beautiful sun-lit courtyard stood my love of a thousand years. We spoke these words:
My name is Betty Newman. I would like to share an apartment
I'm Jim Williams. Let's share mine, it has an extra room.
She had grown up in Silver Spring, MD. Her eyes varied from day to day, from blue to hazel to green. She was the one.
After Betty passed, I spent a couple of ears trying to drink myself to death. When that didn't work, I joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Every day brought new miracles. I learned a great many things, for example, "Pray for guidance, not for goodies." After seven years of celibacy, my prayers led me to take up with a most remarkable woman.
We were married in a private ceremony. We say our wedding vows every month on the fourteenth. Doing so has become one of the most enjoyable things in my life. We have now been married for a dozen years. We hope to stay married forever.
I tried a keto diet consisting of cheese and peanut butter, not knowing that such foods trigger psoriasis. I took Stelara, not knowing that it dramatically increases prostate cancer diagnoses. Mine had been slowly growing for years. Radiation, together with marijuana extracts, did the trick.
I tried out as a poster boy for the American Heart Association. During the day, my blood pressures were excellent, but they were dropping by as much as sixty points at night. Long story short, I spent five weeks in a nursing rehab.
Having defeated death for a time, I now believe Susie and I will live to a ripe old age together.