Wednesday, October 17, 2018

“One Ringy-Dingy,…."


I've never been much of a phone talker since my teenage years—I don't do all that much talking off the phone, either, but that's another story. So when I moved back to Chicago in 2006, I decided not to have a land-line phone at all, and instead bought a cell phone for which I could simply buy blocks of minutes rather than signing up with some service and incurring a monthly fee. It's worked out very well. I would buy a block of 500 minutes for $50 and it would last me up to four months. 

But when my friend Norm died in 2010 and I became executor of his estate, I began using my phone more to deal with things related to settling his affairs, and I began buying blocks of 1,000 minutes for $100. When my minutes are running low, I get a recorded message advising me that: "Your minutes are about to expire. Please renew now for continued service." It then advises me that I can purchase more minutes with my credit card by simply punching in *233 on the phone.

So when I heard the message last week, I punched *233 and went through the usual "For so-and-so, press such-and-such, for thus-and-so, press this-and-that; for.…", and finally, "Enter your 437-digit phone number, birth date, mother's maiden name, name of your first pet, etc." routine, and just as I entered the last digit, the call was cut off. Assuming my order had not gone through, I went through the entire routine again.

An hour or so later, I made a call and, as I waited for the phone to ring on the other end, got the "Your minutes are about to expire. Please renew now for continued service." That hadn't happened before, but I figured there was just some delay in the processing.

And when I got the message yet again after another call that evening, I went on-line to see if my debit card reflected the transaction. The total charge, with tax, was $109.75 and sure enough, there it was, right at the top. And directly under that was another identical charge for $109.75, which meant I had purchased not 1,000 minutes but 2,000 minutes of phone time. That's 33.3333333 hours! That would last me at least until June of 2046.

So I decided I'd better try to get hold of someone at T-Mobile, from whom I buy my minutes. But
when I tried calling T-Mobile to find out what was going on, my phone was dead. Using my friend Gary's phone, I finally got through to a pleasant young lady who introduced herself as “Sally”—apparently a common name for women in Pakistan, which her accent indicated. At any rate, as I was trying to explain my problem—that I wanted first of all to start using the phone minutes I'd paid for and that I wanted to remove one of the $109.75 charges—she informed me several times that she could not understand me. I apologized and said I had a slight speech impediment. She couldn't understand that, either.

But finally, she checked my records and informed me that my last purchase had been four months ago. When I asked why, then, my bank showed not one but two transactions two days before, she transferred me to another department which, after going through the entire story once again, transferred me to another department. A nice young man who introduced himself as "Ted," and who I suspect may possibly have been an American, said he would look into it and call me back at the number he had on his records. .... Uh, excuse me? I pointed out that since my phone was not working, I doubted that he could call me back on it. "Oh."

Finally, in order to get my phone working again until all this was straightened out, I gave him my credit card information so he could bill me yet another $109.75, and reinstate my phone service immediately. As to the two previous $109.75 already on my bank statement...well, what's money? I haven't heard back from Ted yet, but I'm blocking out six hours of time to be spent trying to iron it out with my bank.
---------
Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.


This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com


Friday, October 12, 2018

The Boggled Mind



Light travels at a speed of 670,616,629 miles per hour. A spaceship travelling 100,000 miles an hour would take

5,878,499,833,750,587 miles in a light year

The closest stellar system that has a confirmed planet is Epsilon Eridani which is 10.3 light-years away. However, if you travel a little farther to 15.3 light-years away, there is a system known as Gliese 876. It has four identified planets.

The Boggled Mind

Space travel is one of Mankind’s oldest dreams, and I am one of those dreamers.

Every now and then, I let go of my mind the way a child lets go of a string-tethered balloon he has been holding, and just get lost in the awe of wondering.

I began by wondering how long it would take a spaceship traveling at 100,000 miles an hour to reach the nearest solar system to our own—Alpha Centauri, which is approximately 4.3 light-years away. (In one year, light travels roughly 5,878,499,833,750,587—that’s nearly six quadrillion—miles, if that’s any help, and traveling at 100,000 miles an hour it would take 671,000 years to cover the distance light travels in a year. Even at a million miles an hour, it would still take almost 6,000 years.)

The problem is that Alpha Centauri apparently doesn’t have any known planets. The closest solar system in which planets have been found, Epsilon Eridani, is 10.3 light years away (I’ll let you do the distance-in-miles math on that one).

I didn’t even allow myself to think of how, traveling at that speed, one could avoid colliding with what other unknown objects there may be floating around out there in space. And in the 6,000 years it would take to reach Alpha Centauri, assuming mankind on earth had not destroyed itself or met with some species-ending fate and continued the technological advances we would have made in those intervening years would probably include either even much faster spaceships than the one originally launched, or a way to bend time and space…so that when the first ship finally reached its destination destination, others of our race may well already be there waiting for us.
-------------

Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Remembering


I'm not sure why I insist on sharing these things with you...I can't expect you to have any interest in someone you never knew. Yet it is precisely because you never knew Bob Combs, my friend of more than 40 years, that I'd introduce you—however peripherally—to him here. Bob worked very hard at being a curmudgeon, scoffing at and disdainful of everything. He frequently drove me to distraction, as good friends are wont to do. And yet under that carefully-constructed outer shell beat the heart of a romantic.

During the last years of his long battle with laryngeal cancer, he wrote a column for his local newspaper. Quite by accident I came across it not ten minutes ago, and in keeping with my long-held belief that one is not truly dead until one is forgotten, I wanted to bring Bob back for a brief moment. He is not forgotten by those who knew him, and perhaps by reading his words, he may come alive for you.

Following his death, I received the following note from one of his friends. Here it is:

05-21-07

Dear Friends,

With his customary impeccable timing Bob Combs passed away on May 19th 2007, his 92nd birthday. He valued his friendship and kinship with each and every one of you. In accordance with his wishes, there will be no services of remembrance, except the ones you may choose to hold in your hearts.

Attached is Bob's final Sunny Side.

The time has come to say farewell – while it’s still possible!

It’s been such fun these past 13 or 14 years, since Lon got me started on this every-Friday essay, or column, or whatever-you may call it, in an attempt to balance out the Letters page – that is, to point out all the wonderful, beautiful, happy-making things around us. “On the Sunny Side of the Street!”

Stevenson wrote: “The world is full of such a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings!”  Well, as Kipling wrote, “The captains and the kings depart,” but we are still here – until our time runs out. There will always be spring flowers out by Shell Creek,  and the beautiful, winding, climbing,roads of our county, and Black Mountain out past Pozo, lifting its lordly beauty, with its calm and its silence.

There will always be an annual crop of children, full of curiosity and joy – sharing all their exciting discoveries with us, as we once shared with our grandparents. What delights they are, and we must strive to see that the world they grow up will be even better that the one our parents built for us.

In due season will come the breezes and the winds; the black clouds or the fleecy clouds of purest white. The trees and bushes will bud and leaf out and blossom, and flowers will pop out of the ground, seemingly overnight. The birds will come back and my favorite mockingbird, Moxie, will sing his heart out under the moons of spring and there’ll be Moxie XVIII before we can blink!

In its season will come the rain, but nothing, in our part of the world, will rule us as will the sun – and its “Cooker Days.” And so the grapes ripen, “to make glad the hearts of man..” And this old earth turns and turns, and our solar system does, too, and our galaxy goes spinning through space – a tiny dot in the vastness of the unknown.

So, let’s do the best we can, while we can, and smile oftener than we groan, and chuckle more than we sigh, and look on the sunny side….and so, goodbye.
--------
Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com


Friday, October 05, 2018

Thomas


I’ve taken, of late, to closing my cat Spirit in the bathroom at night with food, litter, water, a couple of places to sleep—he seems to like the sink—and a toy; all to prevent his sitting outside my bedroom door at anywhere from 5 a.m. on to sing me the song of his people at full volume. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to mind his bathroom exile, since I lure him in with cat treats. 

The second night I did it, listening closely for the click of the latch as I closed the door, he somehow managed to open it, thus freeing him to resume his serenade. Thenceforth, I have closed the door, listened for the click of the latch, and placed a canister of cat litter against it to dissuade him from being able to force the door open even if he can unlatch it. The problem there was that as I refilled his litter box, the canister of litter grew lighter and lighter until this morning he was outside my bedroom door at 5:25 with a medley of his favorite wails. 

This afternoon, I bought two canisters, one of which will always be full and of sufficient weight, I hope, to keep him in.

And as I pondered our battle, I couldn’t help but think of Thomas, who will always hold a special place in my heart. Like Spirit, Thomas was jet black—thus establishing my ever-since preference for black cats—and, I’ve always thought, proof that both people and animals have guardian angels.

How Thomas and I met is one of my favorite stories. I was living in Los Angeles, at the time. Near my home there was a huge swap meet held every weekend, and I went regularly just to wander around and occasionally pick up things I really didn’t need. One Sunday I had just entered the swap meet grounds when I saw a tiny black kitten, obviously lost and/or abandoned. I was afraid someone was going to accidentally step on him, so I picked him up and took him to the swap meet office to see if anyone had reported losing a kitten. The man laughed and said, “People drop off animals here all the time” and went back to whatever he’d been doing before I interrupted him.

At the time, I had two large dogs and certainly didn’t want to add a cat to the mix. So I just wandered around and if anyone noticed the kitten, I’d ask if they’d like to have him. No one did, until one woman said, “I’d love to have him! I’ll give him a wonderful home!” I gratefully handed the kitten over to her with thanks, and went about my business.

An hour or so later, as I returned to my car in the middle of the gigantic parking lot, I was just about to open my door when I heard a “Meow.” I looked down, and there was the same kitten I’d given away an hour earlier. I decided that someone was telling me something. I picked him up, put him in the passenger’s seat, and went home. 

I named him Thomas, and he was with me for 14 years, moving with me from Los Angeles to Pence, Wisconsin. Given the fact that time does tend to blur the bad times in favor of the good, Thomas was truly a wonderful cat and companion.

And then, as is inevitable with cats and people and all living things, Thomas grew old. He would spend the night in my basement and come up to greet me in the morning, until one morning, he didn’t. I went down to the basement and found him lying on the floor, still alive, but I knew his time had come. I picked him up, carried him up to the living room and sat down, cradling him in my lap, petting him, until he was gone. I don’t remember if I cried or not…I probably did. But to have been there with him, to hold him and let him know he was loved even in his last moments, is something that I will never regret.

Spirit’s time will come, as will mine, and I wish us both the knowledge, at the moment of passing, that our lives meant something to others, and that we were loved.
-----------

Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Flashbacks


For some unknown reason, I awoke this morning having flashbacks of my days (23 years, actually) in Pence, Wisconsin. I moved to Pence from Los Angeles in January of 1983, driving myself in a 24 foot U-Haul towing a second 12-foot trailer behind it. The temperature the day of my arrival was -19. After a hard-now-to-believe 23 years, I left Pence in 2006 to return to Chicago after 40 years, and never looked back.

Geographically, Pence was idyllic. Just seventeen miles south of the magnificent Lake Superior, and surrounded by thousands of acres of forest, the setting is ideal for any nature lover. Endless trails wandered through soundless woods filled with patches of wild blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Autumns in years with just the right mixture of rain and temperatures turned the forests into sensory overloads of color which defy description. Winters bring temperatures of -24 and colder; annual snowfalls exceeding 300 inches are common.

Once a thriving lumber and iron-and-copper mining area, the mines had all closed twenty years before my arrival, and commercial logging had been reduced to a few small-time operations. The entire area sank into an economic depression from which it has never recovered. No rail service, and only very limited bus service further isolated the area. Employment opportunities were almost nonexistent. Several local ski hills and the making of Christmas wreaths provided some seasonal employment, but that—and whatever employment could be found in local shops—left many chronically unemployed.

So very many jumbled memories of people and events flood my mind as I try to make some semblance of them without getting into overly long detail on any one of them. The bed-and-breakfast I had moved there to open proved to be a situation I would never, ever repeat despite a number of wonderful guests-who-became-friends. Because the B&B never provided enough money to live on, I had to rely on other work—managing a local food co-op, working part time at a local supermarket, then as a paralegal for a law firm. I did begin writing books, though I felt I needed a pseudonym as a buffer against the intolerance of local rednecks.

Personal relationships? One of the reasons I left L.A. was in hopes of saving my then partner and love of my life Ray from alcoholism (of course a totally futile effort). While he did try, he could not go three months without drinking, which resulted in his being arrested more than once. Finally, given the choice by a judge to either go to jail or leave the area, he chose the latter and returned to Los Angles and was dead of AIDS within a year. I had a subsequent disastrous five-year relationship with someone I really did not like but could not get out of. And finally, my taking in, at a friend’s request, of a lost soul from whom I contracted the HPV virus which resulted in my bout with tongue cancer.

Friends? I was lucky to have some good friends. Two doors west of me lived the Reinerio sisters, Louisa, 80, Rose, 82, and Amelia, 89, who were very kind to me—all three sadly died while I was still living there, Amelia first, then Rose, then finally Louisa; Esther and Albert Baker, Jody DeCarlo, and Tony Barnes, one of the very few gays in the area, and of course Ursula Schramm, a holocaust survivor. I have fond memories of all of them, and each one could be—as Ursula already has been—the subject of a full blog. 

It’s odd how completely I have been able to close the door on those 23 years of my life…it’s rather like they were washed away in a flood, leaving only scattered, fragmented memories of my life there. To this day, I still rather miss my days in Los Angeles. I have many solid, pleasant memories of my time there. Why is the same not true of Pence, I wonder?

Your life, like mine, is made up of an infinite number of pieces, large and small…of places and people and experiences and memories. As I am the sum of all of “my” pieces, so are you the sum of yours. They cannot be changed, only remembered, reflected upon, and perhaps learned from.
---------

Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Friday, September 28, 2018

Loves Park


I can’t remember much about where I lived…other than the 14-foot trailer in which I recovered from a badly broken leg when I was five…until our house in Loves Park, a small suburb of Rockford, Illinois. We lived on Loves Court, a one-block long street off North 2nd Street, the town’s main road. The house was actually a converted garage at the rear of a larger house owned by the Straits, who had three daughters, Pat, Bub, and Sally, then just a toddler. I really was a strange child because I remember deliberately making Sally cry so that I could comfort her and make her stop. 

I can’t actually remember much about the physical layout of the house, other than it had to have been tiny—though huge in comparison with a 14 foot trailer.

I remember the people, though: the Straits and, down at the far end of the block, which abutted the school I first attended, Loves Park Elementary—lived the Wrennas, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses and therefore viewed as some odd type of outsiders. The Wrennas had one son, David, about my age. More on him in a moment. And then, across the street from us, were the Yorks, who had two daughters a couple of years older than I, and a son, Sonny (2nd from the left) about a year my junior.

On the street behind us, the one on which the school was located, lived Mr. Bement. He was very nice and, to my child’s eyes, incredibly, incredibly old. He was, in fact, about 90 at the time and had therefore been born before the Civil War (of which I of course knew nothing). 

We were living on Loves Court when WWII broke out, and the entire nation was plunged into uncertainty and fear hard for people today, used to constant war, to understand. I had just turned 8 less than a month before, and was in second grade. Wars were something totally beyond the ken of an 8 year old, though I do remember the outburst of patriotism on all levels. At the school, we held paper drives, and scrap metal drives, and collected cans of used lard and bacon grease somehow needed in the production of weapons to fight the war. I had somewhere acquired a fleece-lined ‘bomber jacket’ and felt very grown up and important.

Ration books, containing stamps to be used to obtain a limited number/amount of food and goods necessary for the war…from gasoline to butter, sugar, and meat…were issued in 1942, but those were grown-up concerns of which I was largely unaware.

I can’t really imagine what life had to be like for the Wrennas, but I knew poor David was harassed terribly at school because, as a Jehovah’s Witness, he could not pledge allegiance to the flag, and every morning, when class started with the pledge, David had to go out into the hall. I felt very sorry for him.

About once a week during the summer, when the weather permitted, some organization or other showed old movies in a nearby vacant lot, projected on a suspended bed sheet. It was the highlight of the week.

It was in another vacant lot, overgrown and with an overturned wooden outhouse, that I had my exposure to the female anatomy. One day, after school, a girl in my class and I wandered over to the lot and somehow got involved in a game of “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” I must admit, I was so utterly horrified it seared a revulsion of female genitalia into my psyche. I had already experimented with checking out another male classmate, and it reaffirmed my decision of to whom I would be attracted for the rest of my life. 

I remember there was only one African American (in those days, before today's strictly PC world, they were known as negroes and not yet “blacks” or “African Americans”) in my class. One day his mother, a very heavy-set woman, got angry with him and he ran into his bedroom and hid under the bed. While trying to get to him out from under the bed, she had a heart attack and died. This was, I think, my first real exposure to the concept of death. And thus began my awareness that the world was not always good, and that there were things I could not be protected from. 

We moved from Loves Park the next year, but the memories have never left me, after almost three-quarters of a century. The times change, the places change, but I am still me.
---------

Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ask Not


Questions can be dangerous things. They can easily disrupt the flow of one’s day and/or one’s life. Questions can be like an endless row of upended dominoes: the answer to one can lead to the asking of another, just as looking up a word in the dictionary leads one to find, in the definition sought, another word worth looking up, and so on. It is much better never to ask questions on anything, and just accept anything you are told.

Thought provokes questions, which is why so many people never seem to either think or ask. It is much easier to be told than to have to actually think and ask, which is why politicians and pundits and religious zealots have such huge followings…and gather so much power and money in the process.

There is nothing more threatening to politicians and religious zealots than people who think, which is why certain politicians do everything in their considerable power to weaken our educational system. Education encourages questions, and we can’t have that! An under-educated populace is one far more easily manipulated. 

Perhaps the bulk of social media relies on the overwhelming willingness of people to simply accept what they are told and not ask questions. The most egregiously, patently false and illogical information flows without challenge through the broad channels of social media. We’ve grown so accustomed to these things that we don’t even notice them—a case of stupidity through osmosis. Even good, decent people who do not stop to think “does this really make sense?” go along…and forward to others as gospel stories whose purpose is solely and obviously inflammatory, intent only on inciting anger and planting the seeds of prejudice and bigotry.

Commercials offer a wealth of evidence of the lack of both thinking and question. I love, for example the one that says “tell your doctor if you’ve been to an area where certain fungal infections are common.” Ok. What infections? And how the hell am I supposed to know what fungal infections are common in any specific area?

“Zero percent financing for the first month for well-qualified buyers.” What the hell is a “well-qualified” buyer?

“…and 6 is greater than 3! This changes everything!” Really? Changes what? And how, exactly?

I broke with organized religion at about the age of 8 or 9. My mother insisted that a good dose of religion would be good for me, and I attended an evangelical Sunday school…for a time. But even at that early age, I had a fairly good grasp of what was logical and what was not, and what I was hearing from the “Amen, Brother” minister was most definitely not logical. My questions were at first received with condescension and then wrapped in obfuscation. And finally, after being told that heaven was a place where everyone was happy all the time, I asked the following: “If I am good and go to heaven, and my best friend does something bad and goes to hell, won’t I miss him?” That was the end of my religious education.

Listening to the astoundingly stupid (which far surpasseth ignorance), hateful, mean-spirited garbage spewed by those who presume to be the leaders of their party absolutely dumbfounds me. That their followers cheer and stomp their feet and pump their fists in the air in wild agreement and never, ever have even a single question, leaves me dizzy in disbelief. That they so eagerly lap up each regurgitated chunk of bile they’re given, leaves me with only one general question which applies equally to each mind-numbingly illogical statement: “What the hell are you talking about?”

But there I go again, asking questions.
-------

Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com