Monday, December 29, 2008

Family Matters

Just before I went off to the navy, I gave my cherished wooden DC-3 model airplane to my cousin Tom, then probably around six years old. Tom is now the police chief of South Beloit, Illinois. He and his amazing wife, Cindy, have two children and four grandchildren. They just celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary. (My own parents were just shy of their 38th anniversary when my dad died.) I rely heavily on Tom’s knowledge of police procedures for verisimilitude in my novels. He recently told me he’d been reading my blogs and wondered why, after my having done blogs on my grandparents, aunt and uncle, I had not done one on the rest of the family. And so here it is.

In the mid-to-late 1930s my dad’s job was to train managers for newly-opened Western Tire Auto Stores in Northern Illinois and Northern Indiana. Whenever a new store opened, we would move to whatever town it was in for the several months it took to train a permanent manager. The logistics of constant moves were bad enough without having to stumble over a very young boy at every turn. As a result, during the move and settling in period, I would be shuffled off to my beloved Aunt Thrya and Uncle Buck for a few weeks. They already had three sons....Charles (Fat), John (Jack), and Donald (Cork), thirteen to sixteen years older than I. But because I spent so much time with them, they were like brothers to me.

As the years passed and WWII came and went, Fat, Jack, and Cork all married. Fat and his wife, Shirley, had two sons, Jackie and Ronnie, four and eight years younger than I. Cork and his wife Nornie had four kids: Judi, Tom, Karen, and Dave; Jack and his wife Veda had no children. All the second generation kids grew up and went off and started families of their own and, as is the history of the human race, each new generation is like the ripples moving out from a stone dropped onto a calm surface: the farther away the ripples get from the initial drop, the harder they are to keep track of.

I’ve never made the distinction between first and second cousins: to me, they are all just “cousins” and I love and admire them all equally. All have done very well for themselves in their own lives: Tom, as I mentioned, is a police chief, Judi and Karen are/were nurses, Dave works in an atomic power plant in Mississippi.

I am eternally grateful to everyone in my family for their complete and unquestioning acceptance. As I’ve mentioned, I am the family’s only gay. They all knew it long before I told them, though it was a totally open secret. They all know Norm from our six years together, and when Ray and I came from California to drive around Lake Michigan, Jack and Veda had a family dinner for us, and Ray was simply accepted as my partner. Not one member of my family has ever for an instant made me feel unwelcome or as though I did not belong. I only wish every other gay and lesbian could say that.

Shirley, Fat’s wife, never missed sending me a birthday card until she died. Veda and Jack have been married for…it must be close to 65 years, now…and Veda has not missed a birthday in all that time.

My parents, Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck, Fat and Shirley, Cork and Nornie are all gone now, and I cannot allow myself to dwell on how terribly I miss them all. Grief is a deep and frigid ocean with a strong undertow which can sweep those who venture into it out into the depths to drown, so while I occasionally find myself standing on the shore, I never allow myself to go in the water.

If you have family, treasure them and love them and never hesitate to say how important they are to you. I hope mine knows.

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Friday, December 26, 2008


I’ve often observed…and my friends will readily verify…that I am not a slave to the gods of domesticity. Unlike one of my college roommates, who ironed his shorts, arranged his sock drawer by color, and was diligent to keep a sharp point on all 12 of his neatly aligned #2 lead pencils—I slipped a #4 in there one time and he had a fit (I don’t think it necessary to point out that we weren’t roommates for long)—I have a very casual attitude about most things which admittedly might somehow benefit by being kept in order or placed somewhere they could be found five minutes after putting them down.

I firmly believe Quentin Crisp’s observation that “dust doesn’t get any thicker after three years,” and can’t see much point in constantly vacuuming and dusting when things will only get dusty again by the next day. I started to read an article in the New Yorker four or five weeks ago, and take comfort in knowing it’s right there on the arm of the chair where I left it.

I wash dishes regularly, dictated more by the fact that I have broken all but three of my drinking glasses and don’t like drinking milk out of a cup, than by the joys of splashing around in a sink full of soapy bubbles. And when I do wash dishes, it is much easier just to leave them in the plastic drainer than to go to the trouble of putting them in the cupboard where I’d just have to turn around and take them out again.

Finding it increasingly difficult to close my refrigerator door, I did devote ten or fifteen minutes the other day to starting to clean out my refrigerator. I got about two shelves done before wondering if I might have any new e-mail, and in that time discovered enough mold in the 20 or so plastic containers I use to store leftovers to start a penicillin factory. (I’m really very good with leftovers. With food as with just about everything else, I hate to throw anything away. Now, even as I put a new container of leftovers in the refrigerator, I do not kid myself into believing that I’m ever actually going to eat the stuff, but I can’t throw it away just in case I might.)

I make my bed once a week (laundry day), or on those very rare occasions when I have a visitor. I really can’t see any point to taking the time to tuck and smooth and plump the pillows and carefully fold down the top of the sheet over the top of the blanket. Hey, this isn’t the Holiday Inn and I’m just going to get back into bed after 15 hours or so, so why bother?

I keep a laundry basket in my front closet, and I use it every Friday morning when I go to do the laundry. I just scoop all the clothes off the foot of my bed and off the chairs where I’d removed them, throw them into the basket, and I’m set to go.

However, my one homage to domesticity is that I do take the garbage out every single night, to the great dismay of the cockroaches which previously used to hold conventions under my kitchen sink before I began the nightly dumping practice.

And I do pick up Kleenex and paper towels from the floor within an hour or so of their falling there, and at least three times a day I scoop the mounds of Kleenex from the top of my desk. (At least, I think there is a top to my desk…I seldom actually see it due to the bills, receipts, notes, letters, empty torn envelopes, etc. which magically appear with absolutely no action on my part.)

But I do not consider myself a slob. I like to think of my apartment as I think of myself: “lived in.”

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Monday, December 22, 2008


I was watching a commercial for a new yet-to-be-released movie I had never heard of, and was amazed to learn from the voice-over…done by someone who obviously had far too much coffee before coming to work…that “Everyone is talking about it!” They are? Where have I been, under a rock?

Ah, hyperbole! It is wielded like a sledgehammer by the bottom-liners (who are far too often also bottom-feeders) who have taken over most of our society to exploit the gullible and turns the trusting into cynics. The result is that hyperbole has almost eliminated our ability or willingness to believe anything we’re told.

Hyperbole dictates that no adjective can be used unless it is a superlative. Nothing can be described as pleasant or enjoyable or merely good, it must be SPECTACULAR! All TV and radio sales pitches must be delivered with an enthusiasm with overtones verging on hysteria, and the faster and louder the delivery, the more effective it apparently is in convincing people that they simply cannot live without whatever is being touted.

Have you ever seen an ad, anywhere, suggesting that you to take your time and think it over before you buy? Hardly. Advertising is based on the same basic motivational principle as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Don’ think: ACT!

You must “call within the next twenty five seconds” to qualify to shell out your money for some schlock bit of crap you don’t need or really want. (Does anyone…anyone…think that if you call an hour later they are going to refuse to sell it to you?) This same wonderful item, you are breathlessly assured, retails for 10 times its “One Time Only Special Sale Price.” And the fact that they usually throw in several other (“And Wait! There’s More!”) auxiliary useless gee-gaws clearly shows that they realize that if the product was any good, they wouldn’t have to throw in all the extraneous garbage to get you to buy it.

Hyperbole fuels the seemingly ubiquitous Home Shopping Networks which offer up unneeded items 24 hours a day and, worse, those stupifyingly inane infomercials which hire hordes of obviously mentally challenged people to sit in the “audience” to ooh and aaah and applaud wildly in response to every patently absurd claim.

Have you noticed how many advertisers take great pride in announcing that whatever they’re touting “is not sold in stores!” Logic—sorely lacking in the wonderful world of sales—clearly says that if something is not sold in stores, it is because the store doesn’t want it. I think this is known as “turning lemons into lemonade.”

When I first lived in Chicago there was a cheesy furniture store chain which regularly bought full page ads in all the papers announcing their GIGANTIC PRE-GROUNDHOG DAY SALE! which was followed the day after Groundhog Day with their GIGANTIC POST-GROUNDHOG DAY SALE! They probably did the same with National Pickle Week, but I can’t recall.

There was, when I lived in L.A., a place called “World Appliances,” which I grudgingly appreciated for its sheer chutzpah and creativity, since it gave them the right, in every ad, to boast that they had “World’s Lowest Prices!!”

“Save Big Money!” “Piled High!” “....and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity!” “While Supplies Last!” “Everything must go!”

All of which just goes to prove H.L. Mencken was right in saying “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

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Monday, December 15, 2008

De Profundis

One time in college, during my sophomore year, a girl I didn’t know very well said to me: “You know, Roger, you really are a pompous ass.” I don’t remember exactly what had provoked the observation, but I do remember that rather than being insulted I was actually rather flattered. It had never occurred to me before that anyone might consider me being anything other than totally bland.

I have subsequently realized that I do have something of a tendency toward pontification, soapbox oration, and not-infrequent melodrama—which I suspect may have occurred to you from reading these blogs. And that I find endless fascination in this odd mixture of arrogance and insecurity allows me to ramble on (insecurity) and try to figure out just what makes me, you, and humanity in general tick (arrogance).

The fact of matter is that, like most people, I do have very strong feelings on a number of subjects, but unlike many, I have no hesitation in voicing them. That by doing so I risk being considered somewhat daft—a word seldom used nowadays, but I like it—certainly doesn’t slow me down. In the sincere belief that while you are probably too busy with your own life to devote too much time to frivolous thought, you might be willing to indulge them from time to time in my company. I do try to be careful to point out that I cannot speak for anyone other than myself, but part of me is quite firmly convinced that we all have much more in common than we generally acknowledge, and therefore when I talk (and talk, and talk...insecurity) of me, I am to some extent talking of you (arrogance). Since I am always delighted to learn, through comments I’ve received on these blogs, that other people do finding bits of themselves in my thoughts, it’s merely an extension to think you might do the same. I take great comfort thinking that we are not quite as isolated as we might assume we are.

My trips into pseudo-profundity and melodrama are definitely related to my constant awareness and appreciation of life. Melodrama is rather like zooming in on a photograph…it brings out details otherwise overlooked or ignored. My life-long fascination with disasters, from the Chicago fire to the San Francisco earthquake to large ship sinkings to 9-11, stems not from the human suffering they produce, but for the all-too-rare nobility and unity they almost inevitably bring out. This selflessness and unity, demonstrated in countless individual stories of courage and braveness, are to me evidence of what humanity really could become if it tried a bit harder.

The world…our society, our culture, our race…is a mad whirlpool of contradictions, of good and evil, of kindness and cruelty. I have always taken comfort in the thought that we so concentrate on the bad things in life simply because all the good things are so common as to go without comment. Love and kindness are the accepted and expected norm against which hatred and cruelty are measured, and the fact that we are shocked by them speaks to the fact that there is indeed hope for us all. Our media bombards us with so much evil and tragedy and bad news that we tend to be blinded to the good. There are far more puppies and kittens and babies in the world than axe murderers, yet it is the axe murderers who make the headlines.

So I get up on my rickety soap box and orate and wave my arms and pontificate in hopes that somehow, somewhere, some way, I might make the tiniest bit of difference in someone’s life. I say “in hopes” because, in the final analysis, hope is our salvation.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Butterflies and Skipping Stones

Considering the number of things that fascinate me, you’d think I’d be a lot smarter than I am. But my intellect is more the butterfly or skipping-stones variety, flitting/skipping from one fascination to the next without taking the time to really explore any one thing in any great depth.

This morning, in the period between being totally asleep and fully awake, I was thinking/dreaming of the interobang. I love the interobang, though it is very seldom seen—more or less doomed by the simple fact that it came along after the invention of most typewriter and computer keyboards and its limited usage even if there were keyboard room for it.

The interobang, as you probably know, is a combined question mark and exclamation point, for use in cases where a sentence can be either a question or a statement, generally of incredulity, such as “You’re kidding me!?”

And from the interobang, I flitted to the fact that the shortest words in the English language are “a” and “I” which are both, in themselves letters, though “I” has to be capitalized to qualify. And then I moved on to the fact that many words are pronounced as letters of the alphabet: bee, see/sea, gee, I/eye/aye, Jay/jay, Kay/quay (Jay and Kay are only letters that are also names), el, oh, pea/pee, cue/queue, are, tee/tea, you/ewe/yew, ex, and why (fudging a bit on this if you pronounce the “wh”, which most people don’t).

Which, of course brought me to a favorite fact, that there are sentences which can be spoken but cannot be written—as in the plural of multiply-spelled words. You can easily say “there are three (to/two/too or you/yew/ewe or I/eye/aye)s in English” but you can’t write it down without spelling out all the variations.

English, I have heard, is one of the most difficult to learn of all languages because it is so flexible, and there are more exceptions to rules than there are rules. The prefix “dis” (disassemble, disagree, disappear, disloyal) generally means the opposite of the stand-alone word it’s attached to. Yet I’ve never heard of anyone being “gruntled” or of an “aster”…though there are some interesting possible links in words like “disgrace.” The same is true of the prefix “in” (incredible, inedible, inappropriate, indecent) which can lull you into a false sense of security until you come across a word like “inflammable”, which means exactly the same as “flammable.”

Where words come from, and the relationship between words is endlessly fascinating. It’s amazing how little thought most of us give to them. I don’t know how many times I’ve used the example that the word “breakfast” literally means “break the fast of the night,” and how over the course of time words lose their clarity through mispronunciation (“president” was, I’m sure, originally pronounced “preside-ent”, which is the exact definition of the word: the president presides over the nation).

I know my more educated friends, upon reading this, will probably jump all over it, pointing out innumerable errors, misconceptions, etc. To which I reply, with all due respect: “Tough.”

The accuracy of my beliefs and assumptions aside, the fact remains that in response to the old “if you were stranded on a desert island, what one book would you take” question, my answer would be “an unabridged dictionary.” Every word of every book ever written or ever to be written is in there. The fun would be in knowing what every word means, and in putting them all together again.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When a Spade is not a Spade

Of the many things I loathe, abominate, hate, abhor, despise, and generally dislike, forced euphemisms are high on the list. What is there about human nature that we go to such astonishing lengths to avoid calling a spade a spade? I know that probably sounds odd coming from someone who is so disassociated from reality as I, but there are limits, even for me.

My cat, Crickett, is nearing the end of her days. I know it and, damn the concept of “pathetic fallacy”, I believe she knows it, too. She is now between 16 and 17 years old and has developed cancer at the site of a rabies injection. (I was not aware of it, but the vet says this is very common in both cats and dogs, and for that reason she avoids giving rabies shots whenever possible.) Once well rounded and sleek, Crickett is now little more than skin, bones, and fur, though I feed her a special high-calorie cat food and baby food, and have started giving her the same Boost-type supplement on which I largely subsist. I also give her two drops of pain medication every three days, on the vet’s orders. To me, the most solid evidence I have that she is aware of something is that for the first time in her life, she has taken to lying in my lap while I am watching TV at night. She is not dead yet, but already I grieve for her.

I hate to think that she is in pain, though she surely must be. She has developed a very noticeable limp on her left rear thigh, but she still lies down on that side. It is the matter of degree of her discomfort that I do not know and which bothers me the most. A friend asked if I would consider “putting her to sleep,” a euphemism even more objectionable than “putting her down”. I said no, I would not consider killing her…which is Realspeak for the euphemisms…unless and until I had evidence of real pain, which I do not have at the moment.

Our society has always used euphemisms for death. “He passed away.,” “He crossed over”. Bullshit! He died! I understand that some people find comfort in them, but come on…! (And I'm the one with reality problems?)

Anything relating to sex has, especially in America, been neatly coated in euphemisms. The 1953 movie, The Moon is Blue, is the first time the word “pregnant” was ever spoken in an American film? Throughout our history, women were never pregnant. They were “with child” or “in a family way” or “expecting.”

Euphemisms do have some benefit in providing a buffer for words which could well be considered cruel. Thus overweight people were not called “fat,” but “big-boned” or “hefty” or “zoftig.” “Obese” and “morbidly obese” only came along later, as political correctness began to take over our culture.

Today, however, being “politically correct” has gone beyond all logic; euphemisms are spreading into every area of society like germs in a sneeze. People are no longer deaf or blind. They are “hearing impaired” or “visually impaired.” Short people are no longer short, they are “height challenged.” Governments are particularly fond of euphemisms, apparently in hopes that the public is too stupid to know what the pretty words really mean. In war, the slaughter of innocent civilians during an air strike is merely “collateral damage.” Foes are not assassinated, they are “terminated with extreme prejudice.” Criminals are no longer suspects, they are “persons of interest.” And the list goes on to and beyond the horizon.

Like fire, euphemisms make a good servant but a bad master. We could use a few more servants and far fewer masters.

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Monday, December 08, 2008


I think if I were to be a flower, I’d be an Impatiens. I’m not sure I know what an Impatiens looks like, but I do like the name, since it reminds me of one of my most outstanding characteristics: impatience.

I’m sure it all stems from the fact of my raw-nerve awareness of the passage of time, and that every instant spent other than in doing what I want to do is time which will never come again, and brings me one instant closer to the moment when my mind, trapped as it is in a mortal body, will cease to function and all that will remain of me is what I have managed to put down on paper.

I know that there is much to be said for the joys of quiet contemplation, but I’m largely incapable of it. I’ve mentioned before that I simply cannot do nothing. I cannot sit on a park bench on a sunny day and just enjoy the act of sitting and being part of nature. I’ll be a part of nature soon enough, and enjoyment will have nothing to do with it. Even when looking up at a blue sky filled with puffy clouds, I can’t be content with just observing: my mind insists on searching them to find faces and sailing ships and tanks and fish.

I have never in my life begun a project involving physical labor which, ten minutes into it, I wish to heaven I had never started, and I too often, as a result, end up with a slipshod result simply because I was too impatient to take all the time to do it the way it should have been done.

When I go to bed at night, I look forward to dreaming, even if I can’t specifically recall the dreams the next morning, and should a night pass without my awareness of there having been dreams I feel cheated. I’ve been told, and firmly believe, that death is very much like a deep and dreamless sleep. Well, like being a part of nature, I can wait. And in the meantime I prefer lots and lots of dreams, thank you.

I am terrible at waiting. If I have to schedule an appointment, I want it to be scheduled for no later than the time it takes me to get from here to there. Sitting in a waiting room without a book or magazines is torture. Telephone calls which involve my being put on interminable hold by mega-corporations who lie through their teeth when they soothingly reassure me, every 30 seconds, that all their operators are still busy with other customers and that my call is very important to them send me into apoplectic fury.

My impatience has gotten me into more trouble, over the years, than I can possibly remember, let alone recount. I constantly say and do things that, on reflection, I wish I had not done or said, but I simply do not/cannot have the patience to think things out before I react. I tend to be one gigantic knee-jerk reaction.

Often, of course, time does not allow for patience. How often have we, ten minutes after the fact, come up with a really brilliant retort to something someone said, which left us at the time merely muttering something inane or stewing in silence? That’s one of the good things about writing: I control the time in my characters’ world. I can eliminate the gaps between the comment and the retort, and therefore be far more clever than real-time permits.

I’ve been told endlessly that I should practice patience, and I really should. But I just don’t have the time.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Stupid Questions

I love stupid questions. They always bring me up short, as though I’d run headfirst into a concrete wall at full gallop. I often have to go back and listen to the question again, since I couldn’t believe it the first time.

Television news often has a monopoly on stupid questions, and I have spent hours pondering just what sort of answer they might possibly have been expecting to inevitable (and utterly pointless) questions such as: “Tell me, Mr. Jones, exactly how did you feel when you found your wife and six children had been bludgeoned to death and run through the Cuisinart?” Do they really expect Mr. Jones to say “Oh, I just had a good laugh, poured them down the drain and went out to dinner”?

The degree of the stupidity of questions from reporters seems to go up exponentially depending on the number of reporters present. I especially love it when somebody is being hauled into court through a mob of reporters, who wave microphones and hop up and down and all but pee themselves in the general quest for truth. “Did you do it, Joe?” “Where did you hide the body/money, Joe?” Why bother with a trial at all? All we have to do is get Joe to say: “Sure, I did it; look under the tulip tree in my back yard.”

Why do they insist on asking the accused killer’s sweet little old mother if she thought he did it? What are the odds that she’ll say “Of course he did it! String him up!”

For a very brief period I was fascinated (the kind of fascination usually reserved for the Reptile Room at the zoo) by that TV show with Pat Sajak and Vanna White, where contestants politely request letters or vowels (I'm constantly amazed that some of them can tell the difference) to fill in the blanks in a well-known phrase. My very favorite was one in which everything hinged on only one remaining letter in the nearly-completed phrase “Once Upon a _ime”. The contestant studied it carefully and said: “May I have a ‘D’, please?”

I enjoy asking my own stupid questions in response to stupid commercials. (“The number to call is 665-0023! That’s 665-0023! Just call 665-0023 now! 665-0023!” To which I always ask: “What was that number again?”) And that infuriating whatever-phone-company-it-is with the guy asking: “Can you hear me now?” I always cup my hand to my ear, squint at the TV, and shout “What?”)

Among generally asked stupid questions are: “You wouldn’t lie to me would you?” “Can I trust you?” “Do you like my new nose ring?” and “I don’t look my age, do I look?”

I’m not the only one who is aware of stupid questions, and I’ve always been grateful to whoever first asked: “But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

But of all the contenders for the world’s most stupid question, I think the winner, hands down, is the old classic: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” There’s nothing like a simple answer, I always say.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Doing Things

Let’s face it: other than after 5:30 p.m., when I surrender myself to the intellectual wonderland of television, I am incapable of relaxing. Totally incapable.

This morning I went to coffee with friends. We arrived at 10:30, as we always do, and by 11:15 I was champing at the bit to…well, go! To move! To not sit still another moment…as I always am. I am frequently rather concerned that my friends think I am bored with their company, but hope they realize by now that this isn’t the case. I just can’t not be doing something I can at least fool myself into thinking is constructive.

This afternoon I wrote a bit, though I am aware that I am dragging my feet on my book-in-progress and not writing nearly as much as I should every day. I wrote and responded to emails, read a bit on a book I’d been trying to get to for weeks now, went back to my own book, then moved on to several games of solitaire, becoming increasingly antsy with every action. Finally I just chucked it all and sit here composing another little guided tour through the workings of a very disorganized mind.

What is bothering me, and bothers me every time I find myself in this situation, is that every second I am not doing something I consider constructive, something that will leave some trace of me after I am gone, is a moment lost for all eternity. And I am agonizingly aware of the fact that time is running out. My death is not, I hope, imminent, but it is inevitable and no matter how many years may be ahead of me, they cannot be as many as are behind me. So I scratch and scribble and scrawl and type in an attempt to leave a trail of breadcrumbs through the corridors of time hoping someone, somewhere, someday, may follow them back to realize that this one little man with a desperate need to be remembered existed in their past just as they exist in their present.

I take Dylan Thomas’ words very much to heart: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” I have no intention of doing so. And I have the mental image of a small boy…I leave it to you to imagine who that small boy might be…, wearing a crown cut from posterboard and carrying a cardboard sword, wrapped in a large bath-towel cape, bravely marching forward to battle the demons of reality.

And I am fully aware that reality is not so much Dylan Thomas’s advice but the final image of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandius, which I am excessively fond of quoting:

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

But I believe with all my heart and soul that what matters is not that one inevitably loses the battle of life, but rather that one has loved life enough to fight for it to the end.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Stupidity Redux

I was sitting here sorting through my vast treasure trove of goofs, gaffes, errors, and random stupidities for which I am a legend in my own mind, and for no reason—as in fact there almost never is one—followed a short trail of breadcrumbs to a post received from a friend earlier in the day commenting on the fact that the sleeping medication, Ambien, has a warning on the label that it may cause drowsiness. I think we were talking just the other day about drug commercials in which the recitation of warnings and side effects takes up more time than telling you why you should buy it. It always struck me as ridiculous until I got to thinking yet again at how incredibly stupid people other than me can be. I suspect the makers of Ambien could well be sued by someone who had used the product while piloting an aircraft and, surviving the resulting crash caused by falling asleep at the controls, charging that the label did not specifically warn him/her that it might cause drowsiness.

When I worked in Chicago the first time, a co-worker was telling me how, when he worked for the Packard Motor Car Company (I know, you’re much too young to remember Packards), a woman drove into the Packard garage with a new convertible, the cloth top and collapsing/raising mechanism of which looked like a crumpled kite. The woman was outraged, demanding Packard fix the problem immediately. The shop workers could not imagine what might have caused such damage, until the woman explained that she had been driving down the highway on a lovely spring day and decided to put the top down. It simply never occurred to her that she might have to stop the car to do it.

Recently, another woman (sorry, not picking on women, it just happened to be a woman in both these cases) sued the manufacturer of her Winnebago motor home for not specifically stating in the owner’s manual that the driver cannot engage the cruise control feature while driving down the highway and then get up to go to the kitchen area to make a sandwich. She won.

A truly tragic example of stupidity occurred when I was living in northern Wisconsin. A young man, despondent over the breakup with his girlfriend, decided to kill himself (after all, life simply is not worth living if you break up with a girlfriend). He put his father’s shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger, blowing half his face away. But he lived, if his condition can be called life. My feelings of true shock and infinite sorrow for the young man were nonetheless tempered by the utter stupidity of the act.

Bank robbers who write hold-up notes on the back of their own checks, people who, peer into the barrel of a loaded gun to see if it needs cleaning, the man who enters a darkened room and, smelling gas, lights a match to see if he can find the source, etc.! The examples are endless. I am deeply appreciative to whomever it is who creates the annual Darwin Awards, which “salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who have accidentally removed themselves from it.” The accounts of incredible stupidity exhibited by reward recipients are mind-boggling…all the more so because they are true.

I guess part of my problem with all these blatant examples of idiocy and incompetence is that, I take a perverse pride in my own, and I resent the competition.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wastebaskets and Life

Because of the smallness of my bedroom, where my computer is located, my wastebasket is about five feet behind me. So every time I need to pitch something…usually wadded-up Kleenex…I have to turn my swivel-chair around to throw. I throw it. I miss. I get up from my chair, pick up the Kleenex, walk back to the chair and, without sitting down, throw it again. I miss. Ever a glutton for mental torture, I go retrieve it again. I stand directly over the wastebasket and drop the Kleenex from a height of less than three feet. I miss.

How the hell can anyone possibly miss a wastebasket from a height of three feet? I’m not sure, but I manage, eight times out of ten.

I look on my luck with wastebaskets rather as an analogy for my life. It’s a singularly perverse form of narcissism that I am in constant awe at my ability to screw things up with absolutely no effort. My inability to perform even the most simple of tasks is not limited to tossing Kleenex into a wastebasket. I suspect that when we are born, we are handed a detailed instruction manual for dealing with just about every possible situation which may arise in the course of our lives. Mine, unfortunately, seems to have been written in Swahili.

For most people, when the manual says “Insert Tab A into Slot B”, they merely insert Tab A into Slot B and get on with their lives. For me, however, either Tab A is too large and Slot B is too small, or Slot B is just a line drawn on a solid surface and therefore impossible to “insert” anything into it.

Pop top cans are simplicity itself. Just hook your index finger under the top edge of the tab, raise it up, and the can opens. I try it and cannot get my finger far enough under the tab to have any leverage at all, and after innumerable, increasingly frenetic attempts and a broken fingernail, I go to the silverware drawer to extract a knife or spoon in an attempt to pry the damned thing high enough to get my finger under it. Even this often takes five or six tries.

Whoever invented the phrase “To open, simply lift flap” on packaging deserves a special place in hell. This applies not only to soda cans, but innumerable items. I am never able to “simply lift flap,” and end up ripping the package to shreds in an uncontrollable fury, often sending the contents flying around the room, necessitating my going out and buying more of whatever was in the package. (And you think manufacturers aren’t aware of this? Silly you!) When is the last time you opened a bag of potato chips or crackers without tearing the bag?

Why am I incapable, once I have managed to dribble something stainable on the front of my shirt (which, given the lack of physical control I have over my mouth, is inevitable) , of removing the stain either before or after putting it in the wash? Bleach merely creates a huge white blob on whatever color the item may originally have been. Spot-Ex, Oxy-Clean, Shout—no matter. I am incapable of removing a stain. Ever. As a result my clothes look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

I recently bought a Swiffer floor cleaner. Millions of people have bought the Swiffer, and every single one of them (at least if one can believe the ads, which of course I always do) are elated with the results. Grimy, blotched floors become sparkling with just one pass of the device. For me, not only does it not clean the floor, but my feet tend to stick to the floor after I’m done.

But, hey, as the song says “Life is just a bowl of cherries.” They don’t mention the pits.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Organized Sports

Among the myriad of things I simply cannot comprehend (witnessed by the frequency with which I mention them)—and I am totally serious when I say this—is the appeal of organized sports. It is in viewing the rest of society’s reaction to these commercial activities that I find yet more strong evidence that I live in a world to which I do not belong.

As I have so often said, I have no objection to games, or to the active participation in them, yet this is exactly my point. I can see the benefit of playing sports, but absolutely no benefit to or point in just watching them…let alone comprehend the beyond-all-reason fervor they engender in people whose most exercised muscles are located in their eye sockets. What is gained by sitting at a bar stool or in a chair chug-a-lugging beer while shoveling food into one’s mouth with both hands is simply beyond me.

I can even concede, in an incredible display of nobility, that there is some interest in watching athletes perform. Grace is evinced in sports as it is in ballet. I admit I love watching men's Olympic diving and gymnastics competition, but I have motives other than in seeing who wins.

I believe it says volumes about a culture in which individuals who, by sole dint of their physical prowess in one sport or another, and despite their frequent inability to put together a complete sentence without fifteen interjections of “Ya know what I’m sayin’?” or just “Ya know?” make more money in one year than most scientists, educators, scholars, researchers, rocket scientists, and doctors make in twenty?

Does it never occur to anyone other than me that if a football game is divided into four fifteen minute sections, the game should be over in an hour? Has a football game ever been over in an hour?

Am I the only one who realizes that tomorrow’s BIG GAME!, anticipated with all the fervor of the Second Coming, will, day after tomorrow, rapidly fade from memory to be replaced by the fevered anticipation of next week’s Big Game?

As with so many things in human existence, it is far easier to delegate as much of one’s life as possible to someone else. This applies equally to mental activity, like seriously thinking about issues affecting all mankind or asking questions of anyone in authority, and to physical activity. Why should I get all sweaty and achy climbing three flights of stairs or walking to the grocery store two blocks away, when I can take the elevator, hop in my car, and then on returning from my arduous and exhausting trek, flop down on a comfortable chair or couch and watch other people—obscenely overpaid people—catch footballs and chase after baseballs or whack one another soundly with hockey sticks and do all those things I am too lazy to do for myself?

If anyone could explain to me how the billions of dollars spent annually on commercialized organized sport could not be better spent improving the human condition, not to mention improving the health and well being of those who spend the money for tickets, I would be most willing to listen.

And I am sure that the value and wisdom of my views will be universally realized, and the world will become a far better and healthier place. When pigs fly.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


As you probably have guessed, if you’ve followed these blogs for a while, one of my favorite things to rant about is commercials. They truly never cease to amaze me as indicators of the contempt in which advertisers hold us.

There are so many egregious examples, picking just a few at any given time is difficult. I currently have two which I find particularly noteworthy. And I find it significant that when I find a commercial repugnant, I do my best to forget the name of the advertiser. One of these current “favorites” is, I believe, for Plavix, (“Just because you’re feeling better doesn’t mean you can stop taking them.”). It shows a doctor’s office, with a white-coated doctor sitting behind his desk addressing some hanging-on-every-word schlub. He’s droning on in a bored monotone and, while listing 45 seconds of side-effects during the one-minute commercial, says “Be sure to notify me if you’re planning surgery.”

I beg your pardon? Notify my doctor if I’m planning surgery? What an amazing idea. Heck, I normally just do it myself, or call my plumber, like everybody else.

I’m sure the drug companies are very unhappy about having to take up precious advertising time by listing possible side effects…a classic example of government’s sticking its nose into free enterprise…and they usually speed through them at a dizzying rate. Of course, they’d have to, to be able to get them all in. But do try to listen carefully. There is one drug designed for muscle pain which includes as a side effect “severe cramping.” And I’m sure I have heard, buried among the cautions of “sinus drainage” and “mild nausea” something about “sudden cardiac arrest.”

The list of side effects is so long with some medications, including the “Do not take if you are…or have…or may ever conceivably have…” that they should just use a blanket caution such as “Do not take if you have a pulse.”

My second current favorite shows two climbers—a man and a woman, of course…having two men could smack too strongly of a homosexual relationship—on a rock wall,, hundreds of feet in the air. The camera zooms in as the woman retrieves her cell phone (don’t ask), then calls a number. “I’ve just been notified that my checking account is low,” she says. “I’d like to make a transfer. Thank you.” She then hangs up and continues her climb. I can’t help but envision the person who took the call staring at the phone wondering who the hell was calling, how much she wanted to transfer from what account to what account, and what her account number might be. But one of the cardinal rules of the advertising world is “Don’t bother with logic, just get the message across. The viewer is too stupid to realize it doesn’t make any sense.”

Local TV advertising has its own charms. In Chicago we have a ubiquitous car salesman who holds his hands at shoulder level as though measuring the fish that got away and then emphasizes every single word with a forward chopping motion of both hands. Another gentleman, selling new and used sports equipment, was apparently inspired by the car dealer, but added his own delightfully endearing modifications: hands in basically the same position as the car dealer, but a bit lower, he varies his chopping motions with a hand-clasp (chop-chop-clasp, chop-chop-clasp, etc.).

So now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go tell my doctor about my plan for brain surgery, then call my bank to transfer funds, then go buy a new car and some sports equipment. (And they say advertising doesn’t work!)

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My Life of Crime

In the interests of full disclosure, should I have any hope of having my application for sainthood approved, I feel I must confess my criminal past, shameful though it is.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, it’s police department was notorious for its storm trooper harassment of homosexuals under the leadership of its rabidly right-wing chief Ed Davis. Gay bars were routinely raided without reason, and anyone or everyone inside was subject to arrest for “lewd and lascivious conduct”…a practice which ended only when a patron of a bar called the Black Cat was beaten to death by police during a raid.

Young, good looking plain-clothes officers were routinely assigned to the vice squad for the sole purpose of entrapping gays. Arresting gays was extremely lucrtive for the city, and the police considered the city's gay bars and parks equivalent to the Outer Banks for hauling in a profitable catch. They were energetically proactive: if a gay man did not solicit them, they'd do the soliciting. Supposedly, if you asked someone coming on to you if they were the police, they had to admit to it. Sure.

Barnsdall Park is one of the better known in the city. Small and very hilly, it is the location of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes, and its elevation provides excellent views of the city, particularly at night. It was fairly close to where I lived and I went there from time to time. That it was also a popular cruising area didn’t hurt. Though I was hardly a regular, one night I arrived around 9 p.m., parked in the nearly empty parking lot, and took one of the trails leading to the highest point in the park. There is nothing more beautiful than a city at night as seen from above, and while I was certainly not averse to meeting someone, it was not my primary purpose for being there.

There were very few people around, and while climbing the narrow path I passed a guy whom I had to step into the brush to get around. I passed him and went to the top. After watching the city for a few minutes, I headed back down, and passed the same guy on the path. He struck up a conversation, and I knew immediately he was a policeman. But the conversation was totally innocent until he asked “What do you like to do?” Alarm bells ringing, I told him I liked movies and tv and books and the beach, and I figured I was safe because I said absolutely nothing about being gay. We kept on talking and he kept asking what I liked to do.

I asked if he were a cop, and he laughed and said “no way!” I told him I had to get going, and started down the path. He followed, talking all the while. When we reached the edge of the parking lot I asked if his car was there, and he said no, he’d parked further down the hill. He asked if I would give him a ride, and I stupidly agreet. When he asked yet again what I liked to do and like a fool, I told him....though I did not use specific words. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than he nodded, and another man I’d not seen came toward me. I was placed under arrest and taken to the police station, where I called a friend to come bail me out, which he did within an hour.

I immediately made an appointment with one of L.A.’s best known gay attorney (upon whom the character of Glen O’Banyon in my books is based), and explained exactly what had happened. I told him I had not said one single word that I could not have said on national TV or at a D.A.R. luncheon. He merely looked bemused. He defended innumerable entrapment cases and became a very rich man as a result. He said he would represent me, but that I shouldn’t harbor any wild illusions of the outcome of the court hearing.

When I met with him again just prior to going to court, he had obtained a copy of the police report, which he showed me. If the arresting officer wasn’t gay, he certainly should have been… and he could have made a fortune writing gay porn. I apparently had told him I wanted to engage in just about every sex act known to the human species…all of which he lovingly detailed.

When I protested to the lawyer, he simply pointed out that it came down to the word of a minion of public decency against that of a disgusting pervert, and I agreed entirely, except that the roles were reversed in this case. I wanted to fight the charge in court, but he pointed out that that would cost far more money than I could ever afford, and that I'd lose anyway.

So I went to court with about 75 other entrapment cases, pleaded Nolo Contendre, was fined $365, and sent on my way. The L.A. police were happy. The city treasurer was happy. Even my lawyer, whose fees were in addition to my fine, was happy. I was not happy, but who cared?

And there you have it…the sordid story of my debauched life of crime. Move over, John Dillinger.

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Friday, November 07, 2008


Envy is one of the less noble but more common of human emotions. We’re all subject to it to one degree or another, but for some of us it is more pervasive and disruptive than for most. Envy has always been a regrettable part of my character, looming over nearly every aspect of my life, casting long shadows. It is a natural extension of my childhood-forged conviction that because I cannot be everything I want and expect myself to be, I am somehow unworthy and inferior. I’m sure a psychologist would find it significant that my envy is almost exclusively directed at men who are younger, better looking, more talented, more graceful, more intelligent, more well read, more successful, or wealthier than I, and I have worked hard to find some way of dealing with it and a variety of other problems.

Envy is not exactly a mature emotion—it has clear roots in childhood. A child who wants another child’s toy isn’t interested in the reasons why he (or she) can’t have it. He wants it. He doesn’t have it. It’s not fair. Period. And the more things the child/adult wants and cannot have, the stronger role envy plays.

Unfortunately, for those of us who want so very much that we cannot have, envy can become something akin to an emotional toothache, distracting us from fully appreciating those things that we do have. I’m constantly reminding myself of just how lucky I am, but envy is not materially affected by logic.

As disruptive as envy may be, it is largely an internal affair. The danger is when envy metasticizes into jealousy, and they are inherently closely related. Jealousy is envy’s nasty big brother, and can do real harm done not only to one’s self, but to others, as Shakespeare amply demonstrated in Othello.

I’ve been lucky to find, at least for myself, a partial solution to the problem of rampant envy, which has worked quite well for me. As you know, I some time ago divided myself into Roger, the day-to-day, laws-of-physics bound part, and Dorien,who is not bound by any physical limitations and can do or be whatever he chooses. I neither know nor care what other people think of this unusual arrangement; it works for me and that’s all that matters. An analogy I’ve used frequently is that Roger is the bulb, and Dorien the flower.

So now, when I read a book I wish I’d written, or see a good looking, talented young man, and the Roger part of me is consumed with envy, I just turn it over to Dorien, who simply shrugs and says “We hate him,” and then moves on. There’s no malice in it; it’s just Dorien’s way of dealing with it.

My friend Gary’s nephew Travis came to stay with him for a few days while attending a medical convention. Trav is 27, a second-year resident in Emergency Room medicine. I don’t believe he ever received anything less than an A in his entire academic career. He loves the outdoors, riding mountain bikes, and rock-climbing. He is a type-A personality who succeeds at everything he attempts, and if that weren’t enough to induce envy in anyone with a pulse, he is strangers-stop-and-stare, cover-model gorgeous. (He is also irredeemably heterosexual, but no one is perfect.) If there ever was anyone Dorien could put his heart and soul into hating, it’s Trav. But he can’t because, in addition to all his other envy-producing attributes, Trav is a genuinely nice guy.

Some things just aren’t fair.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I forget who it was who said about someone’s ego: “He wants to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” I fear they were talking about me. I long to be the center of attention at every gathering, or the favorable subject of every conversation. Yet such is the perversity of my nature that while I desperately crave attention, I am generally and genuinely embarrassed on those rare occasions when I receive it.

Ego is an essential component of one’s personality. It is a healthy and useful tool in dealing with the world. It helps to flesh out the personality, to give it shading and color. It comes in many forms and a vast array of sizes. We all know people whose egos are like an avalanche, so large and all-encompassing that they sweep everything before it and totally bury any other aspects of personality. Those who possess this degree of ego are also known as boors, and such people brighten a room by leaving it.

Conversely, there are those whose egos, for whatever reason, are so weak, undeveloped, or repressed that they drain the person of character. They are, sadly, the wallpaper people. They enter a room and instantly blend in with the wallpaper, becoming all but invisible.

And there are those like me who use their ego as a shield. It’s a form of bravado not dissimilar to those animals who puff up or put on various displays to forestall attack. One problem with hiding behind an ego, for me, at least, is that it’s rather like being Sisyphus, forever pushing the rock of my ego up the hill. The less worthy I feel, the larger the rock must be to hide me.

I suppose many other people use ego to hide behind, and I doubt that anyone standing at the top of the hill looking down would see anything but the rock, and have no idea that Sisyphus was struggling behind it.

Of course for many people, a manufactured ego is born out of childhood. The less worthy one feels as a child, the more likely one is to create a false ego for self-protection. If others won’t give me the adulation I so sorely crave, I’ll convince myself of how good I am.

There are any number of embarrassing incidents from my past…which I for whatever reason seem to take a perverse delight in using to flagellate myself for not being as good as I think I am. One example which springs too eagerly to mind is of going to a birthday party for one of my younger cousins while I was probably about 12. I was the oldest kid there, and when the time came to play games, I deliberately went out of my way to win every one of them…hardly a major accomplishment given my age advantage. Finally, one of the mothers had to come over and ask me to please let some of the other children win. I’ve never forgotten that, try as I might.

These same tendencies followed me, in hopefully lesser form, into adulthood. I moderate a Yahoo group for discussing and recommending gay-themed books and the writers who write them. I admit I formed the group partly as a way to promote myself and my books and, by extension, to seek approval and reassurance. When anyone posts a note listing their favorites authors or books and I and mine am not on it, my ego takes a hit.

If we wear our egos like a suit of clothes, in my case I can hear Fanny Brice singing “Sam, you made the pants too long.”

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Do Unto Others

Why is it that the simplest and most natural questions always seem to be the ones with the most complex answers —or no answers at all?

I’ve often wondered why the Golden Rule is so widely praised but so seldom practiced. It’s like that old saw: “What is there about ‘NO’ that you don’t understand?” What is there about “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” that makes it such a difficult concept for so many people to grasp? Is there some sort of species-wide dyslexia which forces so many to read that simple sentence as: “Do unto others as you would have done unto them”?

It’s not a matter of religious belief: agnostics, atheists, and members of all religions give lip service to it. I sincerely believe and have always felt that within those ten simple words lie the solution to just about every moral issue facing mankind.

Given that on the “animal, vegetable, mineral” chart, human beings genetically fall into the “animal” category, and as such are subject to tens of thousands of years of behavior similar to any other animal, it’s not easy to quell these instincts. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Survival of the fittest. One would assume that after about five thousand years of struggle toward civilization, our more advanced brains might have put us further ahead of jungle predators than we seem to have come. We are civilized in theory, yet far too often not in practice.

We still strongly demonstrate all the positive—and negative—attributes of the herd instinct. We too often blindly follow whomever bellows loudest simply because it is much easier, and often safer, to be a follower, even when the leader is totally wrong. (The saying “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is amply demonstrated by looking no further than the heads of our own government.)

In our daily lives, as individuals, we struggle with the same genetic imperatives; someone crosses us in some way, and our knee-jerk reaction is to lash out in some form. We respond to real or perceived rudeness with rudeness. We are so concerned with our own agendas that we are often totally unaware of the reactions our actions trigger.

I live in a large apartment building and, especially in the elevators, always try to acknowledge my fellow riders. But sometimes I don’t for one reason or another, or sometimes when I say “hello” I will be greeted with stony silence. And just as there may be good reason for my lapse, I have to acknowledge that there may be a very good reason for their lack of response—they didn’t hear me, they were preoccupied, they were having a bad day. In any case, I have no excuse for any negative reaction on my part. So I really must try harder to practice what I preach and treat everyone the way I would like to be treated, even if they do not respond in kind. Turning the other cheek isn’t always easy in every instance, but there are so very many instances when it really doesn’t take that much effort. And there is a certain comfort and even an odd ego stroking in knowing one has behaved better than someone else. Almost makes me feel a little…well, superior. Survival of the fittest, you know.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I am not a scientist. I am a humble, simple man who has come upon the answer to the underlying cause of a scourge sweeping the adult heterosexual male population and has been largely ignored—as was AIDS in its early years—by the scientific community.

I speak, of course, of the devastating, heartbreaking, family-destroying condition known as “erectile dysfunction”, of which not one person in a thousand had ever even heard until only a few short years ago, and which today rages unchecked. We all owe a great debt to our nation’s ever-vigilant and altruistic drug companies, who loudly sound the alarm in the form of several thousand television commercials bombarding us every waking hour, offering desperately needed help to millions.

And yet, the cause of “E.D.” as it is also known, is astonishingly clear. It is, in fact, laid out plainly in the commercials themselves, and I cannot comprehend how no one but me seems to have realized it..

So please bear with me, listen carefully, and do not dismiss me out of hand before giving serious consideration to what I am about to reveal. (You may want to take a firm grip on the arm of your chair.) Are you ready?

The single cause of erectile dysfunction is the wearing of a wedding ring!!! I swear!!! Perhaps it’s the metal or something…I don’t know…perhaps it cuts off blood flow to the genitals (?)…but all I ask is that you observe what I have observed: in every single TV ad addressing the problem of erectile dysfunction, the sufferer is wearing a wedding ring! Every single one!!I challenge you to prove me wrong!!

We have all seen that absolutely delightful commercial which I never tire of seeing even after 14,642 exposures, where six or seven guys are having a grand old, good-ole-boy time strummin’ guitars and pluckin’ bases and whatevers and joyfully singing “Viva Viagra” (a catchy tune, but I can’t help but think I’ve heard it before somewhere). Well, my friends, observe carefully: every single one of those men is wearing a wedding ring!! Coincidence? I think not.

How else can you explain the fact that while the number of afflicted heterosexual male adults seems to grow every day, I have not seen one single reported case of a homosexual adult male so affected. And why do ads for acne cures, for example, never involve the prominent display of a wedding ring? Simple: because wedding rings are obviously not the cause of acne. And there is strong evidence that the wearing of a wedding ring may be a contributory cause of many other adult diseases and ailments. Just note the number of wedding rings prominently displayed in commercials for arthritis, sleeplessness, sore backs, coughs and colds and any number of other illnesses!

There is an old saying that “there are none so blind as those who will not see,” and for some inexplicable reason, the medical community has chosen to totally ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the waiting room, solution in hand (as it were).

If you still doubt me, this evening, as you watch TV, take a pad and pencil and, when any commercial dealing with adult afflictions comes on, jot down the disproportionate number of sufferers wearing a wedding ring. Then write or call your elected representatives and demand legislative action banning the wearing of wedding rings…and all other rings, for that matter. Our nation’s health is at stake!

My job here is done. I have proven my case beyond the shadow of a doubt. The rest is up to you.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Holding On

Chocolate covered donuts are a staple of my diet, partly because I like them, partly because they are easy to eat and do not require a lot of saliva for processing while chewing, and partly because each one contains 350 caloriea and I need all the calories I can get.

During my last trip to the store, they had the donuts on a “two for” sale, so I bought two boxes, planning to put one in the freezer until needed.. However, when I got home I discovered that there was absolutely no room in the freezer. More than once, I have opened the freezer door to have half the contents cascade out all over the floor, like Fibber McGee’s closet. So today I am determined…determined, I say…to take a large garbage bag, go through the freezer, and throw out everything I know perfectly well that I will never use. The problem is that it is all perfectly good food (well, some of it has been in there for a year or two, granted, but…) and throwing away anything that might possibly be used is totally anathema to me. If I had someone I know would like to have it…, but I don’t.

I’ve mentioned before all the things I have which I refuse to get rid of. There’s my Navy pea-coat, the sports jacket I am wearing in my NIU senior yearbook photo, the pair of NavCad sweatpants with “Margason” stenciled across the backside, several sweaters I bought while living in Chicago the first time, or in L.A.

The pajamas I put on every morning were purchased back around 2001, for wearing while I went to the hospital for repair of a para-hyatal hernia. The elastic on the pants gave out a couple years ago and are now secured with a safety pin; you can read a newspaper through the fabric at the elbows. Why in the world can I not bring myself to throw them away? That is a rhetorical question, since there is no answer.

The blanket on my bed has a hole in it from God knows where, and the silk-or-whatever-it-is edging along the top and bottom hangs on by a few threads, drooping down to the floor on the bottom side. But I can’t throw it away…it still keeps me warm, which it was meant to do. How can I throw it away? “Waste not, want not” is a saying I do not take lightly.

And somehow—I as usual have absolutely no reason why—all this is tied in with my inexplicable sense of loyalty to these things. They have served me well; how can I be so cold as to just pitch them when they are no longer as young as they used to be. Neither am I, and I would hate to be just cast aside because of it, though this is largely how I find myself being treated by much of society.

While doing laundry the other day, I noted that all five identical pair of pants I wear constantly (rather like Little Orphan Annie with her red dresses) are becoming more and more shoddy and threadbare. They are approaching the state of tatterdom where I simply will not be able to wear them out in public anymore. I should just go out and buy five more identical pairs . But will I? I won’t hold my breath. I find shopping for clothes a huge exercise in frustration, since I can stand among endless racks of thousands of pair of pants and not find a single one I like, let alone well enough to buy five of them. And what to do with the old pants? Throw them out? I never throw anything out if it has one more possible wear left in it (rather like an empty toothpaste tube…if you squeeze hard enough, there’s always one more brushing’s worth in there). Besides, to throw something out is a form of ending, and we all know how I feel about endings.

Be glad you’re you.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Looking Down, Looking Ahead

Among humanity’s seldom-used gifts is the ability to find something positive in just about every negative situation. It often takes a lot of effort, but it’s possible.

Take, for instance, my oft-decried head-bent-forward condition, with the result that I spend much of my time staring at the ground while walking. Not good for noticing people approaching or taking in much of my surroundings, but I do find a lot of pennies. And I pick them up, too, often to the mild chagrin of whomever I’m walking with. And this morning, I followed a trail of blood from the corner of Halsted and Wellington two blocks to the Illinois Masonic Hospital’s emergency room. There was a considerable amount of it, individual drops but a lot of them, many of them in clusters at intervals of several feet. I was…and am…of course very curious as to the story behind the drops; a story I’ll never know.

And had I been able to walk like normal people, focusing on everything ahead of me, I may well never have noticed the trail.

The other day, while standing on the wide sidewalk in front of a store, waiting for something, I noticed a very small insect, marching with apparently great determination, across the concrete, which must have seemed an enormous distance to something so very small. Not knowing the acuity of an insect’s eyesight, I wondered if it could even see the end of the concrete ahead of it. I had the mental picture of someone walking across a seemingly endless dessert, and wondered if it got thirsty on the way, as well as how it ever got there in the first place.

Last week, while returning from a two-and-a-half-hour walk through Graceland Cemetery, one of Chicago’s oldest and most historic—and possibly the subject of a future blog—Gary and I were just getting ready to walk into the Addison el station near Wrigley Field when we were approached by a TV film crew from WGN News. They wanted to know our opinion on the fact that, as a result of state and local budget problems and partly because of the State of Illinois decreeing that senior citizens could ride public transit at no cost, plans are underway to increase the fares paid by everyone else. (I’ll leave the speculation of how they possibly knew we were seniors to another time.) They asked if we thought it was fair, and we both replied that while we could easily afford to pay to ride, many seniors would find it a true hardship. The woman doing the interviewing concentrated mostly on Gary, of course, since he is better spoken than I and his speech is far more intelligible.

At any rate, we were on the 9 o’clock news: a first for me, and probably as close to my 15 minutes of fame as I’ll ever get.

Just to keep you posted, between the writing of the above and this as-I-write minute, I had an appointment with a spinal surgeon, to see if something might be done to bring my head back to a more normal position. Several x-rays were taken, and it was determined that I have three vertebrae affected by arthritis and tilting forward. However, he believes it is the rock-hard muscles in my neck that are the major problem, and that if we can find some way to relax them, much of the problem might be resolved. So we are going that route, which includes a neck brace, possible Botox injections to relax the muscles, and spending as much time as I can lying on my back without a pillow which slowly forces my head and neck into a more normal position. We shall see, but I’m feeling very positive. Positive is nice.

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Monday, October 13, 2008


In case you may not have noticed, I’m very big on fantasies. Most of us have a small pool of fantasy into which we gaze longingly, like Narcissus. My pool, however is Olympic-sized and I don’t merely gaze into it but splash around in it constantly. It is, in fact, my primary form of mental exercise.. Truth be told, I spend more time indulging my fantasies that dwelling in the real world. But, again, that’s why I became a writer.

I have an appointment coming up later today (the day this entry appears) with a spinal surgeon to see if something might be done to in any way reverse the effects of whatever it is that is causing my head to tilt forward…a glacial-paced progression I fear is ongoing. The process at first was so slow that I didn’t notice it, and when I did, there was nothing I could do about it, if there had ever been a time when I could. I tried wearing a neck brace, but that didn’t last long— partly my own fault since I found it bothersome to wear for one hour twice a day.

I should have been alerted to the problem when, not too long after my release from treatment at Mayo, it was discovered I had developed a bone spur on one of my vertebra at the base of my neck—undoubtedly from the radiation. (My local oncologist, at a small, remote hospital in the Great North Woods, casually informed me I had cancer of the spine. Whatever possessed him to reach that conclusion, which was almost immediately proven totally wrong, I will never know; but I do know my faith in him sank so precipitously it is now somewhere in the mud at the bottom of the sea.)

Anyway, remembering the bone spur just now, I did a full Gainor high-dive into my Pool of Fantasy. A little indisputable self-diagnosis, unencumbered by any medical training whatsoever, determined that the bone spur has grown, thus forcing my neck forward and down, and that all the spinal surgeon will have to do is remove the spur and all my vertabrae will come back into line and I’ll be able to lift my head high enough to drain a can of pop, and turn it more than 10 degrees in either direction, and maybe gain 8 pounds and shed 15 years and be as I was before all this happened. (I know, I’m in the deep end of the pool here, but so what?)

And even if this particular fantasy proves to be merely that, as it quite probably will, it provides me with a great deal of hope and comfort until reality, that bull in the china shop, sends it packing.

Fantasy, in fact, is hope. It enables us all to do and be—if only in our minds—those things which we so desperately want and probably can never have. I see no harm in it, and a great deal of solace and pleasure. Fantasy is a cluster of bright, helium-filled balloons to which the small child in each of us can hold tightly, and in which we can take infinite delight. We can totally ignore the thin string which tethers us to reality.

I see a distinct danger in the fact that increasingly, in today’s culture, our fantasies come pre-packaged and bar-coded; that our own imaginations are being replaced by dreams based upon a wide array of commercially-available products. As with so many things in life, it is easier to simply take what is handed to us rather than bothering to create our own.

But I’m probably being too harsh, as usual. I watch the wonder in the eyes of small children at the zoo or in a toy store and hope against hope that the wonder of the new will blossom into the wonder of fantasy. I know it won’t happen for many…perhaps most. Reality will stomp that out of them far too soon. But for some…

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Sky is Falling

Oh, dear. I really try to be upbeat; to see the better things in life. There is of course an infinite number of good and positive things to talk about: gratuitous kindnesses and stunning bravery and kittens and puppies and the smell of baking bread. This is the way life should be, and the fact that it is not so to the degree that I want and expect it to be casts me and other frustrated romantics like me into the role of snarling curmudgeon. All the good in the world is still offset by the infuriatingly incomprehensible and stupid things we humans insist upon doing to one another.

As a species, we have struggled for several thousand years to improve ourselves; to use our unique gifts to rise ourselves up and reach our potential. But in the careful creation of our society and our culture, we have created a Frankenstein’s monster in that what we have created is now threatening our very humanity. The old adage that “fire is a good servant but a terrible master” increasingly applies to our society, which is increasingly taking on its own power to the detriment of those who created it.

The bible was railing against Mammon a couple of thousand of years ago, and we all know how effective that was. Of all human emotions, the one that most strongly rules our society today is greed.

As recent events in the financial markets have proven, our entire world is built upon and is increasingly fueled by money. There is a growing gap between individual human beings and the culture in which we live…and which we, of course, have created. And as this separation continues and grows, guess which of the two elements, humanity or culture, forges ahead and which increasingly lags behind?

This morning I saw a news item saying that there is a new generation of parking meters which, the minute a car pulls away from it, flips back to zero so that the next car can’t use the remaining minutes! Oh, dear LORD! Just how cheap and moneygrubbing can we get? (This is a rhetorical question, since all any of us need do is look around to see ample evidence of the answer.) People are dying of disease and hunger, global warming (which of course is a myth as our beloved leader tells us), wars, poverty, unimaginable suffering and deprivation, and we spend money on designing a parking meter that will make the city using them an extra nickle?

And the most maddening thing, for me, is the knowledge that all my ranting, and raving, and arm-waving, and jumping up and down, and screaming at the top of my lungs does absolutely no good. It’s yelling into the hurricane, of trying to leave footprints on water. There is no worse feeling than that of helplessness and absolute lack of control.

Quite likely the sky is not actually falling. Somehow we have managed to muddle from disaster to disaster, calamity to calamity…always with the clock at one minute to midnight, always with Armageddon just around the corner, and we have somehow survived. Thus far. It’s almost enough to make me concede the existence of…something pulling the strings, writing the rules we cannot possibly understand. Whatever it is is not the benevolent, loving God of Sunday school, however, but a capricious, often petulant, totally unpredictable entity which takes delight in playing cat to our mouse.

So the sky may not, indeed, be falling. But it’s coming closer every day.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Change and Endings and Memory

The recent awareness that my cat, Crickett, who is between 16-18, is failing rapidly and has very little time left to her set me off on a little philosophical jaunt about endings and change. I was a little surprised to realize that there can be change without endings, but never endings without change.

Resistance to change seems to be wired into the human psyche, probably as some sort of primordial built-in braking system to keep us on the same general track as a species and prevent us all from individually spiraling out of control in an eternal frenzy of change. Our present is made of our past, and our past provides us with stability and the foundations of who and what we are, both individually and as a race.

But change is absolutely necessary for any forward movement, and it is not so much change that I object to as it is endings, which are generally an integral part of changes. Change involves the opening of doors to our future, and often, especially on an individual-human-being level, closing doors to the past which can never be reopened. Death is the ultimate door closer, and the source of our greatest pain.

Memory, another of Mankind’s unique traits, can be both a blessing and a curse. Memory ties us to and roots us in the past. It is a gigantic storehouse of emotion, the strongest of which is love. But once something is moved into the storehouse of memory, it is lost to the world of now.

Man is a greedy creature. Once blessed with love, he is reluctant to give it up. He may pay lip service to the fact that love is not a gift but a loan. The response to losing someone or something one truly loves is sadness, grief, and an indescribable resentment for its having been taken away. It is not enough to merely be grateful for having had the love at all; we despairs over its loss and, like a little child, want it back. “If I had it once, why can’t it be mine forever?”

Memory is the mind’s eye. We need only close our physical eyes to open the eye of memory. Yet we are terribly myopic when it comes to the future and refuse to see what we do not wish to acknowledge: that time is a collection agency, and it will be paid.

Which brings me back to Crickett. She has been with me for many years, but her time, as is time for every living thing, running out. I am trying, rather belatedly, I fear, to give her the attention she has always demanded but I have been too busy with my own interests to give her. I want her to know she is loved and that I appreciate her sharing her life with me. She is still alive, so I still have some time to make up for all the past years of benevolent neglect. The door is still open, but I know it will soon close, and Crickett will pass from the tangible now to intangible memory.

But Crickett is not human. She is a cat. My love and concern for her cannot possibly be compared to the love of one human for another. My mother, my father, my aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck, my remaining cousins, my close friends to all of whom I owe so much and upon whom I depend so strongly…how can I dare equate love for them to love for a cat?

Easily. Love doesn’t come with set values or limitations: it is neither quantitative nor qualitative; it simply is. Had I to make a choice between Crickett or my mother, there would be no question, of course. But I do not have to make such a choice. Love is love.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go pet Crickett. While I can.

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Monday, September 29, 2008


Despite not having a stereotypical Jewish Mother—she wasn’t even Jewish—I somehow managed to acquire the overwhelming sense of guilt often ascribed to Jewish writers. Mine, however, is strictly a do-it-myself project, and I credit it to several factors:

First, my emotional development pretty much ground to a halt by the time I was five. A part of me still firmly believes, as all children believe, that I am, and deservedly so, the center of the universe and that I somehow have the power, and the right, to make things be as I want them. I’ve mentioned before the dream I had when I was very young of standing in some sort of power station, with endless rows of identical, flat-surfaced machines stretching away to the horizon, all with buttons and dials and switches and knobs and levers representing infinite power which I realized I had no idea of how to use. That was perhaps the most meaningful dream of my life and it is still vividly with me after all these far-too-many years.

It is partly because I am locked into emotional childhood that I became a writer. Books and stories and even blogs stem from the imagination, and imagination is the mother’s milk of a child’s mind. However, a vivid imagination is by nature antithetical to reality, and while others have allowed themselves to be beaten into submission by reality, I have fought it tooth and nail every day of my life. I cannot and do not deny reality’s existence, but I can and do resent it with every fiber of my being. I am truly and deeply divided between acknowledging the world around me and insisting expecting/wanting people and things to be what I want them to be.

To this day, I cannot comprehend why people are not the way I expect them to be. How can anyone not be honest, caring, courteous, kind, intelligent, loyal, and logical? Some are…at least in some combination of the above traits. And if some are, why isn’t everyone? It simply makes no sense to me. So I blunder through life with my eyes partially closed so as not to see what I do not want to see. As a result, I find myself so very easily confused and flustered and frustrated and angry, all of which I channel back into myself.

And thus the guilt. Because I want so badly to have some control over things which are largely uncontrollable, I automatically assume when anything happens that goes against what I would have it be, it is axiomatic (to me) that whatever it is has to be my fault for not having, or not being able to figure out how to exercise control over it. Something bad happens. I did not prevent it. Therefore, it is my fault.

To preserve my…well, “sanity” may not be the exact word, but it comes close…sometime around the turn of the millennium, my mind and emotions held a closed-door meeting, and when the door opened, Dorien emerged, thereby neatly dividing my being into two parts. For whatever reason, Roger is in charge of struggling with a legion of inner demons, to allow Dorien, my personalized imagination, to be totally free and unencumbered by the physical and more Freudian-id issues which would otherwise encumber him. It is Roger who deals with the his inadequacies and frustrations and guilt while Dorien goes outside and plays in the sunshine.

It works for me.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Grasshoppers & Ants

Remember the old fable about the grasshopper and the ants? The grasshopper fiddled and frivoled away his summer while the ants struggled to prepare for winter. And when winter came….

I noted when I lived in Pence, in the great north woods, that people there were like the ants of the fable, spending most of their spring and summer planting and tending gardens, their falls in harvesting and canning and cutting and stockpiling wood, all in preparation for winter.

But overall, there appear to be far more grasshoppers in the world than ants.
Man, it is said, is the only creature with a concept of the future. Yet how many humans actually do much if anything to act on this concept? Most of the world seems to operate on a day-to-day basis, with only the most general of thoughts as to any specifics of what the future beyond the next few days might hold. Goals tend to be more ethereal than solid.

And how many give any thought to posterity? To who will remember them when they are gone? With most of the world’s population being heterosexual, posterity takes care of itself in the form of one’s children. But, as was discussed in another blog some time ago, most individuals are lost to time within four generations. (What do you know about your great grandparents? What kind of people were they? What made them laugh? What gave them pleasure? So very many… lives (and not only in the physical sense…lost forever. The thought that this will happen to me makes me infinitely sad.
I suppose in a way it is just as well that the vast bulk of humanity never gives much if any thought to these things. Life is confusing enough as it is, and six billion people devoting too much time asking unanswerable questions and pondering the imponderable would make getting anything else done or just moving from day to day even more difficult than it already is. Man is an animal, after all, and even though he has the ability to contemplate the future, he seldom uses it. So most men (and women) live and die just the same as every other animal lives and dies, unaware of the possibilities around them and simply accepting their lives on face value. They are in effect grasshoppers, blithely going about living in the now and neither knowing nor caring what lies ahead. They’ll deal with it when it comes. Kind of nice, in a way. And that is fine…for them.

For me, there is not enough time to explore everything that cries out to be explored, to learn everything I’d love to know, to work on correcting my vast store of imperfections, to be able to spend the time I’d like to spend with friends and relatives, let alone meet everyone I would love to meet, to read all the books and see all the movies and go all the places I would love to go. My ego demands these things as my right. I’m like Joshua, the five-year old boy in my Dick Hardesty books, being dragged through a supermarket wanting everything that strikes his eye and being firmly told he can’t have it.

And as I wrote that last sentence it occurred to me that one of my greatest problems is my inability to accept things the way they are. I never have and never will. It is why I am an ant and not a grasshopper.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008


People never cease to amaze me. Never. The bounds of their stupidity are limitless.

I watched a news program after Ike passed through Galveston…the city in which more than 8,000 people had died in a similar hurricane in 1900. They were interviewing a couple who had just been rescued the day after the storm. They had refused the mandatory evacuation order, since it obviously hadn’t been intended for and therefore equally obviously didn’t apply to them. As the waters surged into their home, they had called 911 for help and were instructed to tie identification around their ankles so that their bodies could be identified if found after the storm. They were completely outraged that the police, whose salaries, they made clear, were paid with their tax dollars, had refused to come drag their sorry asses out of harm’s way. And similar stories emerge from every hurricane.

I feel I have the right to speak contemptuously of the stupidity of others because I have worked long and hard in the field of Advanced Stupidity, and continue to hone my skills in it nearly every day. Though I cannot claim the same level of stupidity as the guy who reaches into the tiger cage to pet the big kitty, or decides to save time by blow-drying his hair while still in the bathtub, or robbing a bank and writing the stick-up note on the back of one of his own checks, I do what I can.

I never pass up an opportunity to speak before thinking, or to lose my keys or my cell phone or glasses while seated in my chair, or to write a series of up to four e-mails, each one apologizing for some dumb mistake made in the previous one. I get a note from Bethann and reply to Bertram, which necessitates an embarrassed note I invariably begin: "I’m so sorry, Beth Anne…, and from there things just naturally seem to go downhill.

I am with a good friend when another friend, who has never met the friend I’m with, approaches. I have known each of them well for a number of years, and I start to introduce them. Suddenly, I cannot remember their names. The worst example of this was when I lived in Los Angeles and, with a friend, ran into a guy with whom I had…uh…a pleasant encounter…the night before and hoped to see again. I totally forgot his name. Needless to say, I did not see him again.

I never re-read e-mails before hitting "send," even though the instant my finger lifts off the "send" button, I see that I have typed several words or even a full line with my fingers on the wrong keys. Or I hit "send" when I intended to hit the space bar.

You do the same thing, you say? Well, that’s okay. You are, after all, human, and therefore allowed to make mistakes. Unfortunately, this magnanimity does not extend to myself. Every glitch, every error, every slip, every faux-pas is inexcusable simply because I damn well should have known better before I did it, but I went ahead and did it anyway.

I love stories of the legendary feud between Claire Booth Luce, wife of Time Magazine founder Henry Luce, and poet Dorothy Parker. Speaking of Mrs. Booth, a friend said to Ms. Parker: "You know, Claire is her own worst enemy." To which Dorothy replied: "Not as long as I’m alive, she’s not."

Alas, I am Claire Booth Luce with no Dorothy Parker to take the heat off.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

The Alien as Hypocrite

If I ever needed proof that I am an alien in human form, it was proven irrevocably by a visit my friend Tony and I made to his neighborhood bar in Madison, Wisconsin after returning from Mayo.

Tony had been good enough to ride up to Rochester with me, and invited me to spend the night at his home on the way back. I had, prior to our going out for dinner, been looking at a large coffee table book he has on exotic creatures of the ocean’s depths, and walking into that bar after dinner, I might as well have been 10,000 feet beneath the ocean.

It was Baseball Night!!! (as opposed to Football Night!!! or Basketball Night!!!) And the place was packed with people with whom I might have felt some individual kinship and commonality under some other set of circumstances or in some other place. But massed together, enjoying…nay, reveling in…their unified bond of joyous heterosexuality, cheering wildly when good old Murphy (everyone in the bar knew every detail about every player on the home team—the Brewers…from Milwaukee, I’d judge, taking a wild guess) hit a double fly or whatever it is baseball players do which they considered cheerable, I was totally overwhelmed. Lots of manly arm-punchings, high-fives (a strange bonding ritual—I loathe high-fives) and prolonged applause, whistling, and foot-stomping. Meanwhile I stood there, a guppy in the shark tank, not having a clue as to what all the fuss was about, and having absolutely no interest in finding out.

Oh, and there was also a billiards/pool tournament going on to add to the general merriment. I can at least grasp the concept of pool if not be overly drawn to actually playing it.

So there they were, men, women, husbands with their wives, guys with their buddies, guys with their "chicks" (do they still use that word?): the very essence of the world to which I do not belong and in which, from the moment I realized I was "different" (I love euphemisms), it was made abundantly clear I was not wanted..

And yet, even as I rant and rave against "them" I realized that my parents and all my relatives, whom I love dearly, are, after all, "them", too, and that this was simply the straight equivalent of a gay bar. I feel (or felt, before the years began pointing their finger at me and whispering "Go away: you’re old!") totally at home in a gay bar, and can well imagine an innocent heterosexual stumbling into one unawares feeling pretty much the way I feel in their bars. Being raised in a culture which too long has considered me and those like me less than human, I am far too intolerant and critical of straights, and am, I am ashamed to say, as bigoted against heterosexuals as they are against me. Yet I fully expect them to accept me and my lifestyle as totally natural and comfortable. And therein we have a perfect definition of the word "hypocrisy."

But the fact remains that I am and have always been deeply bitter at the general heterosexual attitude of superiority-by-birthright…of total smug assumption of their dominance and their inalienable and indisputable right to be dominant…of the vast majority of heterosexuals, and of how blithely unaware they are of the fact that theirs is not the only sexual orientation within the human species.

I saw a tee-shirt once that I think sums it all up pretty well: "How dare you assume I’m heterosexual?"

But, hey, I’m not really bigoted. Why, some of my best friends are heterosexuals.

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Friday, September 19, 2008


I don’t like funks. They are a total waste of time, and they certainly are no fun, yet I am far too prone to them, and they are always precipitated by the most stupid things.

I needed, a day or so before leaving for Mayo (which turned out well, by the way), to make a copy of some documents. My printer had been acting up recently, telling me that there was a problem with my ink cartridges. It did not, of course, specify what might be wrong, or even with which ink cartridge it might be (the printer has two: black and color). My friend Gary suggested I "clean the printer head" and that I consult the manual for information on doing so. So, reluctantly, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for the manual and, when I found it, discovered that there is absolutely no information contained therein which would be of the slightest help to me. Most manuals have a page for "Troubleshooting", listing common problems and how to resolve them. Hewlett-Packard, however, apparently has such confidence in its printers they believe nothing could possibly ever go wrong with them, and therefore have no information on what I need to know. There also, of course, was no mention of cleaning the printer heads (whatever printer heads might be, if that is even the correct term).

I never, ever use the color cartridge, though it is the more expensive of the two, and as a result I imagine it simply clotted up from disuse. But since I can’t be sure whether the problem lies with just one or both cartridges, and have no idea whether anything could easily be done to correct the problem, I will have to buy both a black and a color cartridge. And then, of course, there is absolutely no guarantee that having done so the printer will work. And the downward slide begins.

Greasing the slide is the fact that every morning, Gary and I go out for coffee. I’m really not sure why, since as I’ve said, I’m not that wild about coffee in the first place, and almost never drink more than 1/4 of a cup. But it’s mostly just to get out of the apartment and do a little socializing.(My self-imposed increasing isolation is Once a week or so, we walk/walk-ride to a coffee shop a mile or so away, where we meet a group of friends. All very nice people, and I enjoy their company, but after 20 minutes, I’m ready to go. Gary needs to go there today to pick up an opera ticket from one of the "gang" who won’t be there tomorrow, and I’d planned on going tomorrow to coincide with signing copies of my newest book at Unabridged Bookstore across the street—the books won’t be in until then. So I passed on going today, and immediately felt guilty. But the idea of two days in a row at the same place struck me like fingernails on a blackboard.

Guilt and frustration are the basic ingredients for a fine funk. Spice it up with concerns over my increasingly self-imposed isolation, mild though fortunately needless trepidation over the outcome of my Mayo visit, and a bunch of other niggling little annoyances that wouldn’t even occur to me when I’m not on the slide, and I might win a blue ribbon at the county fair.

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