Monday, July 30, 2007

I've Made a Little List

Taking a cue from Gilbert and Sullivan, I’ve made a little list of people to be dealt with when I become Emperor.

First, of course, are the hate-mongers. I realize that this will eliminate a number of the world’s political leaders and will definitely decimate the world’s televangelists and a huge number of devoted churchgoers. but so be it. Hate is a contagious disease and should be treated as such. I will lock each of these people in a very small room where their basic needs will be provided, but absolutely forbid them from having contact with anyone. I will, of course, provide each of their rooms with a large mirror so they can still feel close to the only person they care about.

A large number of my second group can also be found in the first: the proselytizers…those people who are as unwilling to consider anything other than their own views as they are insistent on foisting those views on you. I do not suffer gladly their knocking on my door or buttonholing me on the street or calling me on the phone. Those who cannot accept the rights of others to have their own opinions and beliefs deserve a special place in Purgatory. But one of my small rooms will suffice until someone with a higher authority is able to pass judgement.

Next are the bullies: those people who feel they have every right to be as loud, obnoxious, insulting, and contrary as they want to be. My very first act as emperor would be the strict enforcement of the Golden Rule, and those who did not observe it would be removed to a little room until they did.

Those who cannot speak a full sentence of dictionary-recognized English words without the use of profanity will have their mouths taped shut, the tape removed only long enough to permit eating. Should they utter profanity during that period, the tape will be immediately replaced until the next meal. This of course will be devastating to the “popular” music industry, but who cares.

People who wear baseball caps at a “cute” angle will be forbidden to wear them and heavily fined if they do..

Then come those who for reasons I have yet to even come close to comprehending, are famous not for doing good deeds or improving the human condition in any way, shape, or form, but merely for being famous. As for the people who make them famous and follow their every meaningless peccadillo as though it really, truly meant anything at all, I have not yet come up with a punishment for them. I find them a bit pathetic, and think the fact that they don’t seem to believe their own lives have any value or interest might be punishment enough.

The originators and purveyors of internet spam will not only be locked away but absolutely forbidden to ever touch a computer for the rest of their lives. And the only reading matter they will be allowed will be the same spam they and others like them have produced.

The blatantly hypocritical who think no one recognizes their hypocracy will be put on a bus and driven over a cliff. Every company with a telephone recording saying “Your call is very important to us...” will immediately be shut down. The “Nigerian barristers” who prey upon the stupifyingly naive will simply be rounded up and shot.

Anyone who deliberately kills or causes needless physical pain to another human being will be dealt with summarily by experiencing exactly the same pain and to the same degree. This will in time free a vast number of prisons for conversion to my “little rooms”.

Those who laugh at the misfortunes or physical or mental limitations of others will be forced to undergo the same misfortunes, to see how it might affect their sense of humor.

My mind is beginning to boggle as I think of all those who deserve to be on my list. All the petty, the cruel, the deliberately thoughtless, the intolerant…there is no way they can all be listed in one short blog.

I am thinking of starting a petition to have me indeed made Emperor so that I might implement the changes listed above. Can I count on your signature?

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mental Blanks

My mind has a tendency to go blank at the most inappropriate times. (And an "appropriate" time would be...?) Usually it happens when I most desperately need it not to go blank…like when introducing two people, each of whom I have known for years, and suddenly can't remember one, or often either, of their names.

The most current example was about five minutes ago, when I realized I needed a topic for this blog entry. One minute my mind is like a whale swimming through thoughts as thick as an ocean full of krill, and the next It’s like looking for a lemonade stand in the desert. (Aha! How about a nice blog on non sequiturs and mixed metaphors?)

When I’m writing a book, one or two blanks are almost guaranteed, but I usually get over them by going back a chapter or two into the manuscript and reading my way forward to where the blank occurred. It’s rather like a car trying to get up a slippery hill…back up, shift it into first, and gun the engine. (Hmmm…about those metaphors….)

Blanks are always a source of frustration, but on very rare occasions they can also be terrifying. I've only had one such instance, but it was more than enough. About a year ago I was on the el late at night, returning from a writers’ meeting. Chicago’s els have various “lines”, the Red and Brown serving the north side of the city. Each line has its own statioins. The Red line is the main line, and all its stations are located in the center of the tracks with northbound trains stopping on one side of the platform and southbound trains on the other. Brown line trains are more or less “feeders” to the Red line, and have two platforms, northbound on one side of the tracks and southbound on the other.

I was on a southbound Brown Line train and somehow got off one stop short of the one I wanted. I had reached the bottom of the stairs before I realized my mistake. I immediately turned around and went back up the same set of stairs to the platform. But when I reached the platform and looked across the tracks at the other platform, my mind drew a total blank. I was absolutely positive that I somehow had crossed from the southbound to the northbound platforms. I stood there totally confused, and my confusion quickly turned to panic. Even when a Red Line train passed by and I clearly saw it said “Dan Ryan”, which I knew meant it was southbound, I still was sure I was on the northbound platform.

It was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had, and I realized just how horrifying memory loss has to be for those with Alzheimer’s.

A Brown Line finally came by, clearly marked “Loop” and I got on. I hope I never have an experience like that again.

And so, children, you see what I do when my mind draws a blank when it comes to what I can possibly write about for the next blog. I just start writing about whales and krill and lemonade stands in the desert, gun my engine, and charge up the hill.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I admire people who have patience. I also admire people who have $28,000,000 in the bank. Unfortunately, I have neither

Patience—or,, more accurately, my total lack thereof—is one of the most consistent and recurring themes in my life. I have never been able to grasp the need for it: if I want/expect something to happen, there is in my mind absolutely no reason why I should have to wait for it. Waiting for something wastes time, and time is without question my largest single obsession.

Being a writer and having patience go together, like peanut butter and jelly. I hate peanut butter and jelly. I am at the moment awaiting the release of my next book, which my publisher assures me is rolling off the press as we speak. But it was supposed to be rolling off the press sometime in the middle of June, and it didn’t, and I’m still waiting for it, mumbling and muttering and being miserable. I know I will have it sometime, but I want it now, and I have wanted it now long before it’s originally-scheduled release date. I’ve wanted it now since the minute I sent it off to the publisher.

And, please, you know me better to say “but that’s not realistic”…we all know where I stand when it comes to accepting reality. I do make some concession to logic: I know it takes time for a book to go through the process, but that same logic also says that six months should be more than ample time to do what has to be done and get the book into the reader’s hands.

I often wonder how I can possibly justify my lack of patience with the very real pride I take in the stoicism I developed during and after my bout with cancer, and I realize that in the scheme of things patience is little more than a niggle. Patience is the desire to bridge the gap between now and a point of time in the future but, like worry—to which we all seem to devote far too much time—the fact is that the things we wait for or worry about inevitably do resolve themselves eventually and, like kidney stones, once they’re passed, the pain and anxiety are instantly over and usually forgotten as we turn our attention to the next set of niggles.

Now, if I could just take the awareness in that last sentence and apply it to my own life, things would go a lot easier. But considering that I am far better at giving advice than taking it, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back

Friday, July 13, 2007


I woke up this morning realizing that I had not written a blog entry for today. My own fault: I had two days to do it, but on the old tried-and-true principle of “never do today what you can put off ‘til tomorrow,” I didn’t.

The first thing I reached for, when trying to think of a topic, was my Whitman’s Sampler Box of Metaphors. I tend to think in metaphors a lot. The first one I picked up was one of my favorites, the “life as an ocean” one. So I started off with it, and here’s all the further I got (obviously, as you can tell, I added this paragraph after the fact):

“So here I stand, on the shore of my mind, skipping thought-stones across the surface, trying to see which one will go the furthest and therefore be the one I’ll use for the blog. The first one I tossed was about my friends Forrest and Bill, who have been together for 50 years and are two of the most blessed people I have ever met. I will definitely do one on them; just not today.

“I then tried tossing the idea of a general blog on friends living and dead, and friendship past and present: I’ve done several of those and enjoy spending mental time with them, but I’m still not totally awake and the decision of which one of hundreds to do was just too cumbersome, made a huge splash the instant it hit the surface, and sank immediately.”

Okay, let’s pitch that one for the moment.

I should have posted this by now, and I still haven’t even come up with an idea of what to write about! Something silly? Something warm and fuzzy? Something deep and pontifical? ( I seem to do a lot of those). Or reflexive, or nostalgic, or ranting, or …? So many choices, and while I rummage around in increasing panic as the minutes tick by, it occurs to me that I would be better off just skipping an entry for today.

But of course I couldn’t do that. You were kind enough to take time from your busy day to come to this site expecting to find an entry, so I couldn’t possibly not have something for you. But you’ve come for a piece of cake and all I’m offering you here is a plate of crumbs. (Uh…was that a metaphor?)

And then the guilt kicks in, and one of Dick Hardesty’s mind voices is berating me severely for being so damned lazy…for trying to just foist off a bunch of pointless babble as an excuse for an entry. I don’t like feeling guilty, but it is too-large a part of my life at times.

So I’ll just cover all of the above in a nice, shiny coat of paint which I know will begin to chip off even before it is dry, and offer this whatever-it-might-be as a small example of how one writer’s mind works: metaphor after metaphor, unconnected thought after unconnected thought; a popcorn popper with the heat turned up and each kernel a thought; a fireworks display of mental synapses firing off randomly.

So I once more throw myself on your patience and good nature, and hope you will forgive me these occasional lapses. I’ll start working on the next blog today. I promise.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Commercial Raves

You may want to send small children out of the room, since when I say I’ll be raving about commercials, I fear I mean it literally.

What prompted me to go off on this particular tangent I of course have no idea. But here are just a few random thoughts on advertising/commercials that came along as I wrote. Don’t expect much in the line of linear thought. Ready?

I’m often tempted to ask just how stupid advertisers think the public is—or how stupid the public is to believe them—but the answer is all too clear. Think Home Shopping Network.

Car ads are fond of offering next-to-nothing finance rates “for highly qualified buyers.” May I ask just what a “highly qualified buyer” might be? I suspect that means someone who has enough money to be able to buy the car outright and doesn’t need a low finance rate to begin with.

One of my very favorite ads absolutely positively guarantees that “no loan application will be refused”. That’s truly brilliant! You will note it says nothing whatever about whether once the application has been accepted, it will be approved. Would anyone like to place a bet?

I love “loan consolidation” offers (paycheck advance loans and income tax advance loans are fruit of the same tree). It never seems to occur to those suckered in that not only will they still have to pay off their regular bills, but that now they will have a new one...paying off the people who made the loan to pay off original set of bills.

Why is it that advertisers seem to think that by talking very fast in a frantic “Run! Save Yourself!” voice might somehow convince you to buy whatever swill they’re pushing?

Schlock sold with a “Certificate of Authenticity” also amuses me. And the point…let alone the value…of a Certificate of Authenticity is?

As the night follows day, you can absolutely, positively guarantee that when anything being sold for $19.95 claims to be “A $250 Value!!!” its true value could not conceivably exceed $1.25, if that.

If that marvelous combination floor-mop-and-popcorn-popper with the Lifetime Guarantee were one tenth as good as they claim it to be, why would they then offer to give you two of them for the price of one?

Four words which should be cause for lethal injection for any advertiser are “But Wait! There’s More!” Why in the world would they have to give any more than they absolutely have to, if what they’re pitching is 1/1,000th as good as they’ve been screaming at you? The answer would be obvious to a chimpanzee, but apparently not to homo sapiens.

Were I king, I would seriously also consider lethal injections for anyone involved in the production and distribution of Infomercials. I would nobly spare the same fate for people who watch the things on the grounds that they surely must already be brain dead. Where do they get the audiences for these shows? They grin and nod and applaud wildly as though someone were standing off camera with a machine gun trained on them threatening to open fire if they don’t act like complete idiots. Whenever presented with the most trivial supposed fact about the product being touted, they display more awe than St. Bernadette must have shown upon seeing the Virgin Mary. And I will not ask about the so-called ‘hosts’ of these insults to 5,000 years of struggle toward civilization. The word “sycophant” was coined for them: they gush more than an Oklahoma oil field.

And when I’m told by the breathless salesperson/voiceover that whatever gewgaw they’re trying to foist off is “Not Sold in Stores!!” I can be sure that the reason is because no store would touch it with a ten foot pole.

Hey, I’ve run out of space, and I’m only just getting started! Well, later you can be sure.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Oh, dear Lord, how I hate condescension! Deliberate condescension is infuriating; unintentional condescension is just hurtful. But either way, it is dismissal…and I find myself increasingly on the receiving end of it as the years too-rapidly pass. Again, most of it is well-intentioned, but the fact is that the older we become, the more we are regarded the same way as we regard small children. (“Oh, that’s a very pretty picture, Bobby. Did you draw it all by yourself?)

Yesterday in a store, a young woman dropped a plastic bottle of water, and I quickly bent over to pick it up for her. Rather than a simple “thank you” she went out of her way to let me know how very much she appreciated my kindness, and wished me a very nice day, which, in turn, was very nice of her. But would she have reacted the same way if a 30-year-old had done the same thing? Possible, but I somehow doubt it.

What happens to us as we grow older? Why do people begin treating us differently just because we have accumulated several more years than they have? And have not the slightest doubt, regardless of how young you now are, that if you are lucky enough to live long enough, your days of being on the receiving end of condescension will come.

Part of the problem, admittedly, belongs with the aging, who too often stop doing things for themselves when they see they can rely on other people to do it for them. Strong, dynamic people who once ran successful businesses and raised families and whose opinions were sought and valued on every subject slowly slide into timidity and hesitancy and unsurity. “Oh, I can’t do that anymore!” “I’m to old to do thus and so.” “No, thanks, I think I’ll just stay home and knit.”

When I lived in northern Wisconsin, my neighbor and good friend Louisa was nearing 80, living alone, keeping her house spotless, cooking wonderful things which she would make sure I would share. She tended a good sized garden, and was always on the go. Then one day she fell in her home and wasn’t found for a couple of hours. Her daughter Marge immediately came from Minneapolis to care for her and in the blink of an eye, it seemed, Louisa changed from “Let me get you a cup of coffee” to “Marge, could you get me a glass of water?” Marge, out of love and concern, insisted Louisa come to live with her and her family in Minneapolis, taking Louisa not only from her home but from everyone and everything she had known all her life. Within a year, she was dead. In a way, I can’t help but think she was a victim of a virulent strain of unintentional condescension.

The gap between what we were and what we, willingly or unwillingly, become grows with each act of condescension. “How are we today, Bob?” (The use of “We” is the epitome of condescension.) “Would you like some help with that?” If Bob looks like he needs “some help with that”, by all means offer it. If he looks too frail to stand by himself on a bus, by all means offer him a seat. But if he is just carrying a package or standing there minding his own business, give him the dignity of treating him like everyone else.

We should never stop being kind, or thoughtful of others of any age. But when it comes to those much older than you, just, please, adapt the level of kindness to the situation. Be careful that your kindness does not say, as condescension to the elderly too often says: “You are no longer one of us.”

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Though I’m sure you haven’t noticed from my earlier blogs, I have a very slight tendency toward egomania. I firmly believe that certain key elements of my emotional development hit a snag somewhere around the age of two and have never advanced beyond that point. I cannot help but believe, in my heart of hearts, that the universe revolves around me…or should. That evidence of that belief is sorely lacking and in fact is overwhelmingly and consistently countered by reality is, as has been the subject of several blogs, the reason I write. If the world won’t conform to what I want it and expect it to be, I’ll create my own world and ignore the real one as much as possible.

I bewail at great length those things which I do not have in the real world, or which I feel have been denied me. I resent, with a blinding intensity, growing older—though the only practical alternative is unthinkable. I resent not being, physically, the same person I was five years ago. I have a part-time job working weekends at a local shopping center, which contains a Bally’s gym, and to watch the endless flow of physically perfect and beautiful young men who are completely unaware of what they have truly often makes my chest ache with longing.

T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” pretty much says it all. “I hear the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think they sing for me.”

And yet, even with all this gnashing of teeth and wailing and moaning and too-frequent plunges into fathomless oceans of self pity, every now and then I am yanked back to reality like a tethered dog which, racing at full tilt, abruptly reaches the end of its leash.

Yesterday, walking down the street with a friend and practicing holding my head as high as I physically can, I noticed that ahead of us was a severely handicapped young man in his late teens or early twenties. And I was instantly yanked back to reality and was deeply and thoroughly ashamed of myself for being so totally absorbed with my own relatively minuscule physical problems.

For me to pity that young man, or anyone with severe physical limitations, would be an insult to them and shame me further. Pity too often covers a conscious or subconscious sense of superiority. My admiration for people who simply deal with what life has given them is boundless. To realize that someone who deals, every moment of their life, with potentially isolating physical and/or emotional restrictions infinitely greater than my own puts my own overblown egocentricism into perspective.

I bewail being my age, until I realize that not one of those beautiful 20-year-olds I see and envy every day knows whether he will be so fortunate as to be given the number of years I have been given.

I cannot raise my head higher than being able to look passers by in the eye, and even then I can’t hold that position for very long. My head is permanently bent forward due to changes in my neck vertebra caused by the effect of the 35 radiation treatments I underwent in 2004 for tongue cancer. But I am alive, and cancer-free and when rationality overcomes emotion I am infinitely, infinitely grateful for those facts.

And, hey, with my head bent forward I can more easily spot pennies lying on the ground. I pick them up, too.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.