Monday, June 30, 2008


There are two basic types of pride: the pride of being a part of something much larger than one’s self, and the stuff that we are cautioned “goeth before a fall,”which is largely of our own making.

Yesterday, June 29, 2008, was a perfect example of the former. It was Gay Pride day in Chicago and many other cities across the nation. Attendance in Chicago was estimated at over 450,000, and it was not only promoted by all the local TV stations and other media, but most—including the major networks—had floats. Before leaving for the parade, I stood at my window and looked down at the Diversey el station half a block from my apartment, watching train after train disgorging platform-filling crowds of people, which then poured out onto the street and flowed eastward, like a river, toward the parade route.

Participation or at least representation in the parade has become all but mandatory for any elected official in the state (especially in election years). Great gleaming red-and-white trucks of the Chicago Fire Department, horns blaring, lights flashing, move down the street as part of the parade, and the Chicago Police Department sponsors a float with dozens of uniformed gay and lesbian police riding on it, led by a convertible carrying the Police Commissioner. This was the 39th Chicago Gay Pride parade and it, for the gay community, truly epitomizes the word “Pride.”

After hundreds of years of persecution and being told we were unworthy, unwelcome, and beneath contempt, we are entitled, I think, to a taking a little pride in how far we’ve come. When I left Chicago to move to L.A. in 1966, the first gay pride event was four years away. When I first lived here, I could have lost my job for being gay, or been evicted from my apartment with absolutely no recourse. Being gay was reason enough.. Our old slogan”“We’re Here, We’re Queer; Get Used to It” finally seems to be paying off. The world is getting used to us.

As I have said so often before, no one who is not a member of an historically persecuted minority can be expected to understand how much that means to us.

For me, the second form of pride…pride in one’s self…has not come without conflict. It is not by accident, I think, that Pride is considered one of the seven deadly sins. My pride forbids me to do many things that I really, really would love to do for fear of standing out from all those who do something well and naturally and appearing foolish. As a result, I stand out and appear foolish by not doing what others do. My pride will not allow me to dance for fear of making a fool of myself. And so I refuse any offer to do so and stand on the sidelines while everyone else is out there dancing. I’ve reported several times how my friends would tell me: “No one will notice you!” and I would reply: “I will notice me.”

My pride has, all my life, set up arbitrary rules and limitations which it demands I must follow. At the parade, I bought a rainbow flag and, while I would not allow myself to cheer and whistle (which I couldn’t have done anyway, since I lost the ability to whistle after my Mayo stay). However, in defiance, I did force myself to raise the flag over my head and wave it as my people marched by. That’s progress.

Maybe there is hope for me yet.

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

Friday, June 27, 2008


Though I couldn’t immediately find it, I’m pretty sure I’ve already done a blog on this topic, talking about how warm and cuddly I always feel when beat over the head with the “cute” stick. It is apparently a given in the advertising world and on TV in general that I am incapable of recognizing “cute” when I see it unless my jaws are forced open and a gallon of the stuff is poured down my throat.

I know I have talked probably several times about weekend-morning kiddie programs hosted by absolutely adorable “little girls” who will never see 25 again, but seem convinced that by wearing their hair in pigtails or in those cute little side-buns and dressing like six-year-olds, no one will know the difference. (When I worked for the porn mill in Los Angeles, such attire was regularly featured in magazines appealing to men who I sincerely doubt watched weekend kiddie shows.)

And I know I have raled against those legions of recording “artists” who firmly believe wearing a baseball cap at any angle but straight ahead is the height of both “cute” and “cool.” Obviously they are correct, since I have not seen more than three baseball caps worn correctly in several years. Probably it’s just me.

There is an ad running currently on Chicago television for some phone company whose name I have blocked out of my head in rebellion. It features a guy who looks like he’s wearing a body-sized bowling ball. And he says he represents the “dot” in”dot com”. (“I used to be a period” he says, thus doubling me over with laughter.) But in case I don’t get it, a young woman passes by wearing…now get this…a polka dot dress, and he says (please keep up with me here, because the zingers just keep coming): “Hi, Dorothy.” Dorothy, get it? (Okay, okay, obviously you’re too dumb to figure it out: let me get out my blackboard and chalk. Follow along now: people named Dorothy are often nicknaked “Dot.” Get it now? No? Oh, forget the whole thing!)

The general assumption of our stupidity goes back to the days of radio when laugh tracks were invented. They are omnipresent today and an absolutely invaluable tool to the industry. They let you know when something is funny (“Those pants make you look fat!” .....Uproarious, prolonged laughter. “Yeah, well you ain’t so skinny youself!” Absolute pandemonium, screams and shouts and applause and guffaws that go on endlessly and reduce the amount of time and effort the writers would otherwise need to try to write something that is even vaguely amusing.)

TV programs like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (the show’s title itself an oxymoron) often feature hilariously funny clips which are so obviously set up and staged you can see them coming a mile away…often enhanced by the cause of the cuteness glancing at the camera just prior to stepping on the rake or tripping into the swimming pool as if to assure the cameraman doesn’t miss it.

Ya’ can’t fake “cute.” Those velvet paintings of the little kids with the enormous eyes (usually with a tear at the corner), or those of the dogs playing poker, or those little “I wuv you” statuettes tend to induce projectile vomiting in me.

A puppy being a puppy, a kitten being a kitten, or a baby being a baby. Now those are the real thing, and you don’t have to grab me in a choke hold for me to recognize it. “Cute”, like any form of “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder, and I’ll decide for myself, thank you.

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Yeah, like you saw the subject line and thought I was going to cram all of life into a one page blog. I’m good (he says modestly), but I ain’t that good. So I’ll just do my usual hop-skip-and-jump routine on some random observations on the subject.

I’ve always liked the quote: “When people say ‘life is hard,’ I’m always tempted to ask: ‘Compared to what?’”

Perhaps the biggest difference between Man and all other animals is that ours is the only species who is aware of the future, and which expects. The problem with expectations is that they are seldom met to the degree we want them to be. (Another favorite expression, which I’ve quoted before, is a line from the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown…or, as I insist upon calling it, The Unbrownable Molly Sink: “You say your prayers weren’t answered? That’s just not so! Your prayers were answered: The answer was ‘No.’”)

There are at least two sides to everything in life. Stoicism…simple acceptance of whatever happens…is an admirable and comforting attitude, but stoicism stifles the human urge to make things better. I read a fascinating study that points out that Western cultures are as a rule more technologically advanced than many isolated Eastern societies primarily because we do not accept things the way they are.

There is no statement that can be made that cannot be countered and disputed, often with great vehemence and a good deal of justification. “Life is good” is a truth which can be countered by just reading a newspaper or watching a TV program, or walking down the street with your eyes open. “Life sucks” is also a truth, but is countered by the same methods as in the previous sentence.

Life is a game we all play, but in which the rules are both unclear and constantly changing. It’s a gigantic jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box. It is a map drawn on a weather vane. It is confusing to the point of being maddening; sad and discouraging to the point of despair; joyous as ten thousand brightly colored balloons released to soar into the sky. It is all these things and infinitely more. But what it is, above all else, is a gift…an all-to-brief nanosecond of existence in the nothingness of eternity from which we somehow emerge and into which we too-quickly return.

Within the gift of life are innumerable other gifts which we too seldom recognize or appreciate. Principle among these is the gift of choice. Circumstances may limit us, but even within those limits we have the ability to make choices which allow us to change, to grow, and to seek happiness…or at the very least, contentment.

Life is also blank canvas presented to us at birth. The tools provided with which to create something on it vary from person to person. Some are given dozens of brushes and a full palette of colors, some a handful or less of crayons or pastels, some merely a single pencil. What we do with what we are given is up to us.

Robert Merrick, the “elephant man” whose life had meaning far beyond the incomprehensibly difficult circumstances he endured with amazing dignity, summed up the point of this entry. “I think my head is so large,” he said, “because it is so full of dreams.” And what more can be said of life than that?

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

Monday, June 23, 2008


Love is one of the most basic, powerful, and admirable traits of our species…though humans cannot claim exclusivity on it, as anyone who has ever had a dog or a cat can attest. Like so many things in life, love has an infinite number of shadings and varieties and intensities, as does its balance between the two individuals involved..

The love between parents and children is quite different than the love between friends, and that indescribably unique love between two people which includes and transcends the others.

Love feeds us and sustains us, and without it we wither and die. It is essential for our survival and our emotional development, and we seem able to store it up, like some animals store up body fat for use during periods of deprivation. Science has shown babies need to be touched and held and fondled as much as they need physical nourishment. Deprivation of love and attention warps the individual forever. (I have seen experiments conducted on baby monkeys denied of any contact with their mothers, and it horrified and devastated me. Such experiments may further science, but their effect on the individual monkeys is unconscionable.

As we grow older, our sources of love grow fewer. Our parents die as do, over the years, our partners and our friends, until we find ourselves like newborns once again, desperately needing love and attention and touch, and receiving less and less of it.

I am comfortable in my life. I am blessed with supportive, caring friends who provide emotional nourishment the human soul requires, and I try to reciprocate it, though I am far less adept at it than they. I still have some family left, and they remain my anchors to the past. I am fortunate, too, to have friends I’ve never met but who know and seem to appreciate me through my writing..

But what I do not have, and miss with a true sense of longing, is a romantic-love partner with whom to share my life. I used to joke that the one thing that separates friend from lovers is sex and, at the risk of eliciting a scrinched-face “eeeeee-eeewwww!!” from those under 40, I can assure you that probably most people, sex remains a strong factor even after one’s sexual appeal is totally lost on others.

For the most part, people tend to be pretty selfish when it comes to any form of love. They want it, need it, and even expect it as their due, though they are…like me…somewhat loath to express it as frequently as they should.

I have never met or even heard of a single person who, claiming with or without justification, that they are unloved, ever claims they are happy. It is a tragic fact that far, far too many people in our increasingly self-isolated world, are deprived of love, of affection, of kindness, of the even casual genuine touch on the arm from someone who cares about them.

Our society, unfortunately, even the most innocent and casual physical contact with anyone other than one’s own immediate family is discouraged, and we are rapidly becoming a nation of paranoids. That teachers are forbidden to hug a troubled student for fear of official reprimand or dismissal is a sign of just how far down the path of dehumanization we have traveled. That a kind, well-intentioned stranger cannot reach out and casually touch a child without being suspected of being a child molester is disgusting.

As elemental as it sounds, the fact remains: the best way to get positive attention is to give it without really expecting it to be returned; the best way to make a friend is to be a friend. The best way to be loved is to love unconditionally.

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

Friday, June 20, 2008


As I was sitting here trying to think of a topic for this blog, my mind…I suspect with some ulterior motive of its own…presented me with the picture of Jean Simmons as Ophelia in the 1948 movie of Hamlet (Laurence Olivier played Hamlet). Gone utterly mad, she wanders beside a stream, idly picking flowers, her eyes indicating that no one is home.Singing little snatches of song, she makes a garland of flowers for her hair, then, totally unaware, she falls into the water and floats gently downstream on her back, oblivious to her fate. But she’s happy.

Knowing my mind as I do, I took the scene as a clear metaphor for my blog-writing. There are as many topics for a blog as there were flowers along Ohpelia's stream, and I pick them as randomly as she did.

I seem at the moment to be in a small patch of lovely little 1940s (they come in a variety of shades). I don’t even have to bend over to pick one. It is of our tiny house on Blackhawk Avenue on Rockford’s far-from-fashionable south side. (Of course it was my parents’, but I always thought of everything they had as mine, and they never dissuaded me from that belief.) The front door of the house led into a small, narrow living room, painted green as I recall, with only one window, other than the one in the door. On the right-side wall of the room, about three-quarters of the way down….maybe eight feet…were two doors; the first to my parents’ bedroom, the other to mine.

My room was only large enough for a single bed and a dresser. I don’t think there was a closet. Across from my room, in the living room, was a large brown metal oil heater with a stove pipe running from the back to close to the ceiling, where it bent and vented to the outside. This was the primary source of heat for the house. The oil was kept in two large drums behind the garage, and I assume there were pipes which ran between them and the house to supply fuel to the heater. Between the oil heater and my room was a large opening into the kitchen. We got our water from a well equipped with an electric pump which, when it elected to go out, necessitated my dad crawling down into a wood-covered pit outside the living room’s only window. This usually happened in winter, of course.

For the first couple of years we lived there, we had no bathroom. There was an outhouse in the back yard. It simply never occurred to me that we might be considered either deprived or poor. It is simply the way things were, and much of the nation lived as we did.

When my folks could afford it, they built a room off the side of the kitchen which became my bedroom. My former bedroom became a bathroom.

I remember lying in my bedroom with my comic books when my folks weren’t home, tracing pictures of Superman and Captain Marvel and Batman and Robin, only I would trace them as being naked (easy enough to do, since they always wore skin-tight uniforms anyway), which provided an early-teen boy with far more heat than the living room oil burner could ever have produced. To avoid being caught, when I finished with them, I would slide them into a crack under my window sill, where they would usually fall between the walls. I often wondered what might have happened if, in the course of the house’s eventually being demolished, someone had found them all. Unfortunately, that speculation was never realized, since the house burned several years later.

We lived there from the time I entered third grade through seventh or eighth grade. I learned to ride a bike there, and we planted a tree which is still, to the best of my knowledge there though the house is gone and only an empty lot remains.

And you see? I’ve picked only one flower! There are fields and fields of them, just waiting to be picked. If I can only avoid falling into that stream…

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Who IS that man?

As you undoubtedly have noticed, I often share the average two-year-old child’s firm conviction that the sun, moon, and stars revolve around me—which is hardly an attitude conducive to a writer expecting to attract or hold readers. However, I suspect, since you have been so loyal in following these blogs, that while observing me rummaging through the dusty corners of my psyche, you have caught occasional glimpses of yourself. The major difference between me and you might be that while we share probably more things than either of us realizes, I tend to think and talk more about things you may be too polite to mention, or (rightly) consider to be nobody else’s business..

Human beings are, by nature and necessity, a complacent lot. We accept things without much thought, which is logical, for if we gave thought to our every action, we wouldn’t be able to do much else. We are assumptive. When we walk, we give not an instant’s thought to what we’re doing…of the infinitely complex coordination between our mind and our body. We operate on the unspoken but totally accepted assumption that what is, is, and what is will always be.

I spend an inordinate amount of time and space, I know, in reflecting on my physical and social shortcomings, real and imagined, and the horrified fascination with which I view the effects of the rapidly accelerating passage of time. I look in the mirror (but only when absolutely necessary) and the right half of my brain turns to the left half and asks, quite sincerely: “Who is that man? Surely it is not me! It can’t be me!” I use self-delusion as a cloak of invisibility that everyone but myself can readily see through.

And I’m fully aware that my constant bewailing of my physical limitations and the utter unfairness of it all is shameful in light of how many people with problems far more serious than my own maintain their silence with grace and dignity. I have never suffered in silence. When I outline in far greater detail than probably is necessary the perceived indignities fate inflicts on me, I know that small boy within me is, in effect, running up to my mother displaying a tiny scratch or cut on my finger, hoping she’ll praise me for being so very brave, and then kiss it and make it all better.

But I like to think that the reason I parade my losses in front of you is primarily as a cautionary tale: to encourage you to be aware of exactly how much you have and take for granted that other people would give anything to have. When is the last time you thought for an instant of how wonderful it is to eat a hot dog on a bun; to be able to open your mouth wide enough to get it all in and once having taken a bite, to be able to chew and savor and swallow it without a thought, and without having to accompany every swallow with some artificial liquid to allow the food to go down? Just stop for a brief second, the next time you are doing so, and consider just how very lucky you are.

My greatest problem, other than the realization that I always took everything I can no longer do totally for granted, is that I still cannot fully comprehend that I will not somehow wake up tomorrow and be able to do everything I could do ten years ago. I consider myself to be like someone who sees a roadside sign that says: “Caution: Bridge Out Ahead” but barrels straight ahead, sure the sign was not meant for me.

People with physical disabilities, or who are suffering or have recovered from serious illness and physical trauma of one sort or another can understand these things, in their own terms and as their traumas affected them. But there are so very many people out there…and I hope you are one of them…who, in their youth and/or perfect health are oblivious to their good fortune.

Just as you should never pass up the opportunity to let those you love know that you love them, you should never pass up the opportunity to stop to think just how very lucky you are. Now go have a hot dog for me.

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Monday, June 16, 2008


I know full well that I frequently think of myself, and present myself to others, as an idiot. But I can do it; it’s my right. I don’t like it, but I can live with it. What I cannot tolerate is other people—total strangers who have never even heard of me and have no interest in doing so except as the signature on a check or a credit card number—automatically making that assumption. Their numbers are, unfortunately, legion. The assumption that everyone is an idiot seems, in fact, to be a fundamental tenet of nearly everyone with a product to sell or a cause to promote.

Probably 95 percent of all advertisers and 99.6 percent of all politicians consider the American public to be severely mentally retarded. Either they treat us with infuriating condescension (“See the pretty new car? Wouldn’t you like to have it? It’s got a horn and it goes really, really fast, and everything!....No, no, don’t bother looking at the price tag or reading the teensy-weensy print at the bottom of the screen/page. It’s nothing important.”), or believe that figuratively grabbing us by the shoulders, screaming at the top of their lungs and speaking as fast as they possibly can we will be convinced and become a bobble-head doll ("Oh, yeah! Sounds wonderful! A limited time offer, you say? Wow! I don't want to lose out on such a great opportunity. I'll take it!"). And, sadly, it works far more often than it fails.

I love glancing quickly through the subject lines in my Spam folder before I hit “Delete.” My current favorite is “Update your Penis.” I assume this involved downloading an attachment. But sometimes I merely stare at the subject lines in total awe. “Film Extras Wanted!” “Make $20,000 a month!” “Cure all Diseases”! Please! How can anyone… anyone …possibly, possibly be so stupid or gullible to fall for these scams? What do people use for brains? Have they never heard of logic? Have they never asked a question?

But the tragic, infinitely sad fact is that people DO believe this crap. Sweet little old ladies sign their life savings away eagerly at the promise of getting something for nothing, then look tearfully into the camera of the newscast telling their story and say: “How could they have done this to me?” Well, dear, sweet lady, they did it to you because, sweet and good and kind as you are, you let them do it to you. You are, sad to say, an idiot. Harsh, I know, but true.

If people stopped falling for these scams, the scammers would eventually go away. But I’m not holding my breath.

I have a few friends and acquaintances who frequently send me political and religious diatribes, usually filled with such odiferously unbelievable garbage I grow ill from the stench. But it is a proven fact that Barak Obama is Osama ben Ladin’s third cousin twice removed, and that he plans to strap dynamite to his wife and small daughters and detonate them during his inaugural speech to congress, thus destroying our entire government. Either that or his first act as President will be to make Islam the official and only religion of the country. Who… who …in their right mind could conceivably in a million million years believe that crap? And I weep to think that so many actually do.

And I fall back yet again on one of my mantras: “If 50 million people believe a foolish thing (or an outright lie), it is still a foolish thing (or an outright lie).”

Which brings us back to my sense of anger, frustration and impending doom in expecting people to be what they so obviously are not. Please, feel free to prove me wrong.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Domesticity Redux

I scrubbed my bathroom floor today. Really, really, on-my-hands-and-knees scrubbed. I used Pine-Sol. I used Mop & Glo. I slipped and slid across the wet floor with a knife trying to clear away whatever it is that accumulates along the baseboard.

I tell you this, because were you to walk in to my apartment and make the foolish mistake of asking if you could use my bathroom, you would think it had not been touched since the Wilson administration.

My bathroom is very small. It is, at night, my cat Crickett’s bedroom. She sleeps on a folded blanket atop the closed toilet lid. Her food and water are placed on the floor against the wall between the toilet and the door. Her cat litter box (I really must invest in Kitty-Litter stock, since I sometimes think I am keeping them in business) is beneath the sink. Since the room has no storage space whatsoever other than the small medicine cabinet, I bought one of those white-metal, over-the-toilet storage shelves, which I had to bend slightly to get to fit. It has four legs which are impossible to reach, let alone clean around.

Being unable to lift my head above chin level, or turn it more than 15 degrees in either direction makes trying to reach behind the toilet an exercise in fun and futility. But I try. I really do.

Crickett is not messy, but some cat litter does get out of the box, and some small bits of dry kibble food also find their way out of the bowl, so I am constantly sweeping it up. You would think that might help keep it clean. You would be wrong.

So, deducting floor room for toilet, under the sink, and storage stand leaves an area 2 ½ feet by 4 feet. I bought a throw rug measuring 2 feet by 3 feet, hoping this would help keep the floor clean. Needless to say, it did not.

I suspect that someone has (or a large number of people have) duplicated a key to my apartment, and when I go out for coffee, or am otherwise occupied, use it for mud wrestling championship matches in my bathroom. (I also would not be surprised to learn they sometimes use the rest of the apartment for similar activities, but that’s another story.)

Most of the people I know, my friends and my family, consider—with total justification—their bathrooms to be showplaces; all sparkle and neatness and crisp, neatly folded guest towels and little bowls of pot pourri, and not so much as a gnat’s eyebrow to be found. (And if there were a gnat’s eyebrow anywhere around, it would have been picked up with a few squares of toilet paper and promptly flushed down the sparkling water of the toilet.). Were there room, they could hold state dinners in there. I stand in awe of their ability, and I am truly envious.

I clean my bathroom sink at least four times a day. But I can clean it to a shine, and come back ten minutes later to find it looking as though someone had dumped a 55 gallon drum of toxic waste into it. And we will not even mention my toilet bowl. No, we won’t. Seriously.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Press 1 for English

Not to worry: I’ll save my fury over being required to “Press 1" to hear my own language in my on country for another blog. This will be a kinder, gentler observation on my fascination with languages in general. I have always admired those who are multi-lingual. I have, at one time or another, studied Spanish (two years) and French (two years), with the result that I am fluent in neither but can begin a conversation in either. I know enough to get myself into a conversation, but not enough to get myself out, and I will happily begin speaking Spanish only to suddenly lapse into French. I generally realize this only when I see the look of utter confusion on the face of whomever I’m trying to talk to. Or, I will liberally sprinkle Spanish words into a conversation in French, or vice-versa. Worst…and most common of all, I will be talking along merrily and suddenly forget the next word. Its effect on the conversation is similar to driving a semi trailer into a concrete wall, and from that moment on, all is lost.

I began, after returning to college from the Navy, to audit a German course. I was fascinated by the instructor’s saying that German is the only language in which each word of a sentence can be written on block of wood, thrown on the floor in a jumble, and someone who’d not seen the original can pick up the blocks and put the sentence together perfectly. That certainly can’t be said for English. But I was too busy with other things like having a good time, and dropped out after about two weeks. I am, however, able to say, should a German tourist ask me a question:
Shadeh, aber ich spreche nicht Deutsch” (phonetic for “Sorry, but I don’t speak German.”)

While I was in the Navy I decided I wanted to learn Greek. I found, in the ship’s library, a book printed in English on the left-hand page, and Greek on the right . I worked at it diligently for some time trying to compare the two and make sense out of it, but didn’t get very far, and by the time the ship reached Athens, I had mastered two phrases…phonetics again…: “Poo-eenay gabinito?” (“Where is the bathroom?”) and “Efferisto” (“Please” I think…it’s been a while, after all.) Well, it was a start.

I did learn enough of both Spanish and French to realize that it is far easier to speak either one if you think in the language you’re trying to speak. That way you don’t have to fumble around doing mental translations before saying something.

I remember when I was a kid reading poetry which had been translated from another language, and being rather disgusted that it often didn’t rhyme. “It’s poetry,” I’d say with far more authority than I possessed. “It’s supposed to rhyme!” The fact that words which rhyme in one language do not rhyme in another escaped me for quite some time. But even with the translation of prose, there are inherent problems. The pacing and lilt of words selected to create an effect suffer seriously when dealing with another language in which a beautiful-sounding word in one sounds like someone coughing up phlegm in another (German has lots of phlegm words, I’ve noticed.) The poor translator has to struggle to find a way around the problem.

The difficulty of dealing with and making sense of languages is compounded when the alphabets of the two languages are totally different: Arabic, Cyrillic, English, Chinese, many others. And Armenia has an alphabet created by one monk, and therefore totally different from any other. I think I’ll study Armenian next.

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Monday, June 09, 2008


Ah, simple pleasures for simple minds. I went to a movie yesterday afternoon…the first in-a-theater film I’ve seen in quite some time, not because I don’t love movies, but because Chicago has relatively few, and the huge chain theaters have effectively driven out the smaller neighborhood houses. (The city of Chicago taxes a single-screen Mom-and-Pop-run theater at the same rate it taxes the 42-screen multiplexes. Hardly fair, of course, but who cares? Certainly neither the city nor the chains.)

At any rate, Gary and I took the bus to the Loop and finally found the multiplex, tucked on the upper floors of a building on Michigan Avenue’s Miracle Mile. We paid the low, low matinee rate of only $8.50. We eschewed the snack stand both because I can no longer eat popcorn and the fact that a small (and they do mean small) box of the stuff goes for $3.75.

As we sat in the 200-seat not-all-that-comfortable theater (the seats are all on one level, making it difficult to see if you’re behind someone tall), I reflected on the time when movie-going was a national pastime, and most people went at least once a week. Tickets cost a quarter for kids and, I think, eighty-five cents for adults. There were no such thing as a multiplex, and the “better” theaters were gigantic, ornate palaces, which gave people still reeling from the Depression the illusion that things were not quite so bad as they appeared.

I remember hearing, too, that at the height of the Depression, theaters were kept afloat not on ticket sales, but on the sales of popcorn. More than nine cents of every dime bag of popcorn was pure profit, as I suspect is $3.70 of every $3.75 box sold today.

At the time I was growing up in Rockford, Illinois (population then around 90,000—today probably near 200,000), there were nine theaters: the dowager empress of them all was the Coronado, a true “movie palace” with blue, starry-sky ceiling and an interior designed to look like a Moroccan village. Lots of gilt, and velvet curtains which pulled majestically back at the start of every show. Plush carpets throughout, and huge, sweeping stairways leading to the enormous balcony. All the best of the first-runs came to the Coronado. It’s still there, saved from the wrecking ball in the nick of time, and is now, I understand, used as a performing arts center.

The Midway, on the East side of downtown, was not quite as ornate, but still large, and also played first-runs. In the block south of the Coronado was the Times: a very nice but much smaller theatre that offered the lesser-grade first runs and a lot of second-runs. Directly beside it was a small shop selling Carmel Corn which you could smell half a block away.

The Palace, on the same street as the Coronado and Times, was a cavernous second-and-C-movie place that had seen better times and ran Vaudeville between movie showings on weekends. The bottom of the barrel in theaters were the Rialto and the Capitol, located within a block of one another on the grimy south side of town. The Rex, the Auburn, and the Park (basically a Quonset hut) rounded out the list.

Every one of them served fresh-popped Manley Popcorn in tall, cylindrical bags, which featured an elephant with one leg on a large red ball. Each bag cost ten cents, and I always got two bags. While waiting for the show to start, I would be careful to eat only one kernel at a time to make it last. I honestly don’t remember theaters serving soft drinks at the time: if you were thirsty, you went to the water coolers in the lobby.

So much more that could be said about those days, not to mention the films that fed the theaters’ tills and the dreams and imaginations of their patrons. I miss them all.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Kittens and Puppies

My alter-ego, Dorien, observed the other day that so many of these blogs are rants and raves and dwell on idiocies and frustrations and other not-nice things. Why don’t I, he wondered, devote more time to pleasant things, like kittens and puppies (and his personal all-time favorite, bunnies). He has a very valid point, as always . Dorien has the objectivity, sound judgement, and good sense that Roger too often lacks.

I pondered the question and reached the conclusion that kittens and puppies and bunnies and all other good, gentle, kind things represent the world as it should be, and as I so desperately want things to be. While I am amply aware that the world is not what I want it to be—I’ve spent far too much time trying to walk into the spray of a full-force fire hose—, I still refuse to concede that it cannot be. And as a result I spend admittedly too much blog time on railing against the world as it is, hoping somehow that there might come a “DUH” moment when everyone will stop dead in their tracks and say “You know, he’s right! Let’s try harder to be who and what we should be.”

As you probably have noticed, under all my self-deprecation there lies an enormous granite-like chunk of ego and the soul-deep belief that I am right in my convictions that we all—myself included—have far more power to change ourselves and by extension the world, than we give ourselves credit for.

That there is hope for humanity is evident everywhere in the kindness of our friends and family, and in the incredible courage and nobility so often seen in disasters, in people sacrificing their own lives (the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades, the firefighters who risk their lives saving those trapped in burning buildings, and so many others). Even the fact that, as so many people complain, there is so little good news on television and in the media. That is, I believe, simply that we all expect that good is the norm …and there is little news value in reporting the norm. It’s like running a headline saying “Sun Rises in East!”

It’s just that, with 6 billion people now on earth, and billions more expected within a decade or so, there are proportionately more rotten eggs in the barrel…more psychopaths and general scum it truly seems as though we are doomed. And all because God told people a couple thousand years ago when the life expectancy was about 30 years, that they had to go forth and multiply to prevent the race from dying out. And we cling to that edict even in face of the danger of running out of space to live or food to eat. God forbid we should encourage people NOT to have children, or give gay and lesbian couples the rights of heterosexuals. One of the major cannons in the arsenal of nonsense about homosexuality still to this day is “Well they can’t have children.” Well, thank God we can’t. There are far too many kids out there in desperate need of people to love them, and so many gays and lesbians who would, if it were made easier, be willing to take them.

Well, I’m definitely getting off course here, but am quite sure I’ll return to this particular subject soon.

Meanwhile, let’s all go out and pet a kitten and think of a world without bigotry and intolerance.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Losing it

There are times when I truly fear for my sanity. There is so very, very much I simply do not comprehend.

The other day, my good friend Gary, a former English teacher, was trying to explain to me the differences between and uses of the colon and semicolon which I am almost totally consistent in getting wrong 99 percent of the time.

Now, Gary is an excellent teacher, and very patient. But what I got from his detailed explanation was this: “When using the semi-colon, the framatizer must always, always modify the blasisneker. The colon, on the other hand muzzuzikates the ninimuker only when.........” And of course the fact that I always walk the thinnest of lines of comprehension suspended over the bottomless chasm of utter frustration doesn’t help.

I listen to songs and TV commercials and hear/see them 19,000 times and have no idea what they are saying. (The Enterprise car commercial, for example, where the mother with the two kids rents a car to get them to their soccer game. The kids get out of the car and one of them says: “Nice sspryyzmis, mom!”) I listen closely. I really do. I strain my ears to try to hear what he’s saying. I try to read the kid’s lips. I crane my head forward and squint at the screen, hoping maybe the extra concentration will help. It does not. I watch it over and over and over again (not through choice, I can assure you, but simply because it plays every thirty seconds day and night), and I STILL do not have the slightest clue as to what he’s saying. Finally, while spewing my frustrations to Gary, he looked at me (the pity clear in his eyes), and said: “He’s saying, ‘Nice save, Mom.”

“Nice save, Mom”??? How the hell was I supposed to know that? I have no idea what a “save” is or is supposed to be. Something related to soccer, I assume, but I neither know nor care. Utter frustration.

Instruction manuals should, I am firmly convinced, be printed in Swahili. I still wouldn’t have a clue what they’re saying, but I’d have an excuse for it (“Sorry, I don’t speak Swahili.” Apparently, since they are supposedly written in English, I don’t speak English either.)

How many times have I been so stupid as to buy something requiring “some assembly”? Whatever it might be always comes with simple, detailed instructions which, I am assured by the salesperson, a baby squirrel could follow while blindfolded with one little paw tied behind its back. I spread the instructions out on the floor. I read them carefully. Carefully, I say. I get to step 3 of an 8-step instruction and am totally, utterly lost. I have either put something together upside down, or backwards, or tried to “Insert Tab A into Slot B” to find that Tab A will not fit into Slot B. There may be only one Tab A and one Slot B, but will they fit together? For you, of course. For everyone else in the world, of course. For me? Guess.

“Easy Open” or “Easy Re-seal” bags of potato chips. Boxes of cookies. “Pull tab to open.” Really?

I have a list of names and email addresses, which I want to transcribe to somewhere that requires my leaving the original window. No problem. “Patricia Smith:” Got it. I switch to the new window and type—if I haven’t already forgotten by the time I get there— “Pat....” and have no idea what comes next. Or I type “” or “” or God knows what. I carry the concept of “short-term memory” to its ultimate extreme, and am disgusted with myself for it. And does that help? Uh...does what help?


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