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A Man Named Mogg

February 9, 2018

Sometimes voices from years ago ring clear in our heads as though they were heard just yesterday. Then they are gone.

Over five decades ago I was already an established writer going to high school. I say “established” because I had already been paid as a writer since the age of 14. I took Journalism as an elective subject almost every semester at Sylmar High just for the fun and sheer enjoyment involved in writing. I loved language. In all of my journalism experiences, including sports editor for the school paper, my teacher was one Mr. Albert Mogg. He was a young man in his thirties at the time and little did I suspect that this teacher would have such an impact on my life.

Mr. Mogg taught me solid journalism, something that is totally lacking in today’s news. I learned, despite my enthusiasm, that editorials were reserved for the editorial page and not the front page above the fold. I learned basic reporting, journalistic writing, editing and even type setting in my many classes with Mr. Mogg. In short, I learned the art of informative and persuasive communication. This was a stark departure from my published poetry and short stories and I enjoyed every minute of it. I sought out every nuance of journalism and Mr. Mogg was always there providing the fuel for my mind’s engine.

Hidden in the sands of the curriculum I always found a few special gems. One in particular has stood out my entire life. I was writing an fiery editorial on some petty campus injustice and I had to run the copy by Mr. Mogg before publication in our school paper. Instead of lancing me with the usual red pen, he asked me to sit down and listen. He started something like this: “Allen, you’re a good writer – actually a great writer but I have some important advice.” He applauded my intent in editorial writing but questioned my approach. Speaking about opposing injustice, he stated solemnly: “If you want to kill an opponent, don’t bludgeon him to death with a sledge hammer. Be more discrete and silently slit his throat.” I pondered that statement for months and finally made it part of my lifetime writing dictum. I embrace it today as much as I did as a teenager fifty years ago. In many ways it now defines much of my writing.

Although I had a passion for writing, I was a normal hormone driven teen and a rowdy surfer as well. I favored blonds, booze and a long board when I wasn’t pounding a typewriter. Apparently, it showed. I used to have a bottle of Sloe Gin in “the cage.” That was a glass walled-off room where the typewriters’ noise would not escape into the classroom. Tame by today’s standards, it was a major big deal back then. Mr. Mogg would see the bottle but in keeping with his own advice he would just bow his head after class and quietly say, “Rizzi, the way you’re going you’re going to wind up marrying an alcoholic blonde with big tits!” I thought he was full of shit at first, then I remembered the knife. The notion stuck.

After high school, I became friends with Mr. Mogg as a colleague of sorts. I became an English teacher and would see him throughout the years. I remember visiting him at his apartment during the divorce from his first wife. We had long discussions that often centered on the moral state of society. He was a huge intellect but also frequently the counterpoint to my overdrive personality. As I had become aggressive in pursuing my ambitions, he would often ask, “Is there anything that you wouldn’t do for money?” I would always answer ” hell no” when I knew in my gut that in fact I would never do anything just for the money. I proved that point to myself a few years later when I graduated law school and walked away from that world because of its lack of morals. We enjoyed playing each other’s Devil’s Advocate and in the end I felt we may have learned more than a bit from each other. He even told me of his plan to change his name; he never liked Mogg. He wanted it to be Thomas David Clayton. I remember nodding in tacit approval.

A couple of years on found me married, divorced and raising my only child by myself. I had entered the music business and I would occasionally visit Mr. Mogg and his new wife where they lived in California’s high desert. He was always supportive of my endeavors even if I hadn’t turned out to be a super journalist. He became more than a mentor and a bit of a true friend. I measure true on quality rather than quantity as we did not in fact spend tons of time together. I recall in particular a time when I was feeling frustrated while raising a young child by myself. He invited me to drive up to visit him and go have dinner together at a Shakey’s Pizza. Those simple gestures were so much appreciated at a time when my own life seemed always to be so turbulent.

Then time did what it too often does the best. Me and Mr. Mogg lost track of one another. I would think about him throughout the next few decades, wondering often where he was and where his new name had taken him. I would smile in quiet moments at the advice once given after I was remarried and once again whole and happy. Finally in 2014, I used my investigative skills to track him down. With some difficulty, I found his phone number and called straight away. A woman’s voice answered the phone and I asked for him by his new name. As she cupped the phone, I heard her ask, “Do you know someone named Rizzi? He says he was a student of yours at Sylmar High.” He finally came to the phone and we slowly tried to initiate a renewal of our relationship from so long ago.

I explained to this man how much influence he had made on my life and thanked him profusely for his efforts in dealing with “youth interrupted” so many decades before. I told him that I now figuratively cut throats daily and that I had discarded the heavy hammer years ago. He was pleased. Then I added. “Remember what you said about marrying a big-titted blonde? Well, I didn’t. I married a big titted brunette.” He laughed but then told me abruptly that he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and that he had good and bad days. Although the mood had turned somber, I tried to be supportive and we agreed to stay in touch.

We stayed in contact off and on and he revealed to me that his Parkinson’s Disease was progressing to the point that his memory often failed. I understood. He told me some great stories about him and his father during their car trips and I learned a whole new dimension of a man named Mogg. We talked, we remembered together and then one day I realized it had been a while since we had spoken. I hesitated. When you reach my age, you are often afraid to call an older person you haven’t spoken to in a while for fear of the inevitable. So I put off calling.

Today, I started writing this post simply as a tribute to an old friend without knowing how the story would end. Remember what I said about investigative skills? You guessed it. I did only two minutes of research on the computer to find out what I should have learned by having the guts to make one simple phone call:

Thomas David Clayton departed this life on Wednesday, October 11, 2017. He was born July 5, 1931 in Wheaton, IL. Tom is remembered for his love of flying, teaching, and travel. He is survived by his beloved wife of nearly 50 years, Mary Lou Clayton, three daughters, and six grandchildren.

Today I have learned Mr. Mogg’s last lesson left to me with a heavy heart: Do not fear the fear of a disconnected phone. The time is always now.

RIP my friend, Mr. Mogg.

Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

Read author Allen E Rizzi 3

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