In the autumn 2021 issues of Notre Dame Magazine, I read that Dr. John Masley ’68 died in Chicago the previous June. I first met John in a freshman English class taught by Mr. Lopach. Our friendly young instructor would assign solid novels like My Antonia and Cry, the Beloved Country, while using The Perrin-Smith Handbook of Current English to cement our own writing and grammar.
Judging from John’s math major, he may also have been with me in Mr. Derwent’s Number Theory class. I somehow qualified for this elective due to my high school credits. But I soon found out that a world bracketed by Dedekind’s Principle and the axioms of natural numbers had no place for a budding scribbler like myself. At semester’s end, I took a passing grade and moved on.
I remember John being a little shorter and stockier than I was — and also more soft-spoken and pleasant. His friends in English class included Blair Lecoeur, whose demeanor was as princely as his name, and a garrulous fellow nicknamed “Bondi.” In the succeeding years at school, I somehow remained on a “hello” basis — especially with the future Doctor Masley.
The notice of his passing away brought to mind memories of one of my trips back to campus. My father and I were at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Chicago early on a Sunday evening toward the end of my senior year. I had spent the weekend at home, and Dad had driven me back to the terminal. It was a chilly close of day with maybe some rain — not unusual for a Midwest April.
Dad and I had grown closer back then, and we let the minutes pass in an easy quiet before departure time. The transit area was brightened by a young woman standing among the small group waiting for the bus. Dressed in a brightly colored coat and silky, flared slacks, she had long dark hair under a knit cap and the hint of a smile. One of Greyhound’s classics finally pulled up, and she lifted her baggage and fell into line with the rest of us.
“Maybe you can sit with Madame Pajamas,” my father said as we parted. Dad’s quip was harmless enough — nothing out of Juvenal’s Satire 6 — and it turned out to be a good suggestion.
Actually, my co-traveler’s name was Sue, and she was nice enough to let me take a place next to her. It happened that Sue was an “actress” — and very good company. As she told me briefly about her career, I mentioned a musical I had seen two years previously on a double date in the Chicago suburbs. Sue was familiar with the production, and she even gave me a rundown on some of the cast. This included a minor Svengali type who could have been the subject — or object — of a play all his own!
At journey’s end, I asked Sue for her last name, in case I ever saw it on a list of players. She offered it graciously, like an ingenue out of Balzac handing her card to a young provincial. Off she went again in another carriage, before I had the chance to write my name on her fan.
As I alit, I saw that the spring clouds had followed us to South Bend. I also noticed John Masley at the station. Perhaps he was returning from his home in upstate New York — or from somewhere less distant. We greeted each other and found ourselves outside with a third student. Memory clouds me now as well. Could this other one have been Memory’s shadow, who stood over me and guided my hand as I set down these fond and not so trivial thoughts?
Two young men in a well-used car appeared on the scene and offered us a ride to campus. We thanked them and climbed in back, which in those days was nothing unusual either. Our pair of thoughtful citizens looked around 18, with slender builds and sporting mustaches. As the driver negotiated South Bend’s dark environs, he hinted that he was sporting something else, and that we were in safe hands.
His friend was from a country whose language I was studying. At one point, he smiled and let out a racy rush of words in dialect. A few minutes later, we were let off by the Main Quad.
“You tell ’em you were with Chico, man!” the driver shouted as he drove off.
In later years, I liked comparing that little episode to a scene out of early Buñuel or Pasolini — or from one of the movies so well presented by our own Film Society. Any condescension I may have entertained gave way on other nights to fascination and not a little envy.
Our third companion bid farewell and disappeared. Young Masley and I began walking to our respective residence halls in the evening quiet. We may have talked about that freshman English class and our subsequent majors — and of my subsequent changing of majors.
“That’s right, you were in Innsbruck sophomore year,” he mentioned, almost as a compliment. Then we parted ways — for good. But our brief conversation helped settle some of the self-wrought disquiet that followed me in those final weeks. And calling to mind that pleasant train of events brings me to a way station of greater peace even now.
God rest you, John.
James Loverde lives in Chicago. His articles have appeared in Sports Illustrated, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader, and his poetry in Rolling Stone.