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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Friday, September 12, 2008

Mind over Matter

I am firmly convinced that, on certain warm nights when I of necessity have to sleep with my windows open, and the atmospheric conditions are just right, the Chicago Transit Authority re-routes its elevated tracks, normally less than 1,000 feet from my apartment, directly through my living room. The result is that as the Red Line roars past my bedroom door, I sometimes wake least partially.

What time is it? My mind inevitably asks.

I have no idea, I reply without actually speaking.

Well, look.

I don’t want to look.

Yes, you do.

No, I don’t. I just want to go back to sleep.

A brief moment of silence follows, then: What time is it?

I don’t know and I don’t care!

Well, look at the clock and find out.

I don’t want to look at the clock. I want to go back to sleep.

Not until you look at the clock.

This goes on for what seems like an eternity until inevitably, I look at the clock, seething with resentment and anger over my giving in yet again to my mind’s niggling.

But finally, I am allowed to go back to sleep, until:

You have to go to the bathroom.

No, I don’t.

Yes, you do.

I don’t want to go to the bathroom.

Well, you’d better.

I’ll go later.

You’ll be sorry.

And of course, even though I may really not have needed to go to the bathroom, just thinking about it makes it so, and I get up and go to the bathroom.

In my new Elliott Smith Mystery series, Elliott has nightly conversations with a non-corporeal being named John. Guess where I got the idea?

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008


It is, as I write, 5:45 a.m. I have no idea what I or anyone with a firm grip on their sanity, would be doing up at this hour if it weren’t absolutely necessary. But I’ve been doing it frequently of late and as a result walk around for the first two or three hours as though I had a 50-pound block of concrete on the top of my head. When I get up this early, I always tell myself I can take a nap during the day, but I never do. I dislike naps, and always have. Naps take precious minutes from a finite supply of minutes, and I resent losing any of them.

So I thought I would spend the time until I could go do laundry without fear of the machines’ noise disturbing anyone with writing a blog or two. (I like to have a small backlog to avoid the panic of arriving at a blog day and realizing I don’t have a blog to post.)

People have asked me where I come up with enough things to talk about three times a week. The question always interests me, since as a rule I have absolutely no idea. It’s like standing at a stove watching a boiling pot of elbow macaroni and randomly dipping a spoon into it to pick out one piece. (In case you were wondering where that analogy came from, it’s because all the pieces of macaroni in the pot are the same length, and all my blogs tend to turn out the same length. Not all analogies are good ones.)

There is a certain presumption in writing blogs, primarily the blogger’s somewhat arrogant assumption that anyone really cares what he/she has to say. That, of course, makes absolutely no difference to the blogger: it’s the assumption that counts.

I have often found throughout life that what I am often not aware of how strongly I feel about something until I suddenly see it written down. Occasionally I’ll find beliefs and opinions I was not aware that I had, or at least not to the degree indicated by the words. It truly disturbs me, and we’ve talked before about this, that while I consider myself a generally happy (or at least contented) person, my blogs, especially, too often reveal a bitter, cynical curmudgeon. I don’t like bitter, cynical curmudgeons, and I certainly don’t want to be one. And I’m always trying to explain where this hopefully false impression comes from: the gap between the world as it should be and the world as it is. It ain’t easy being a romantic in the real world.

I lack discipline, a fact that is all too apparent, and when it comes to writing blogs, I am quite sure I have a form of mental Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: I seem unable to pick up a string of thought at one end and follow it to the other. There are far too many distractions along the way. The world is a beach filled with shiny pebbles begging to be picked up and examined and wondered over. And I am always, always aware of a voice calling: “Hurry up, Roger, it’s getting late. We have to be going soon.” I’ve heard that same voice saying the same thing since I was a kid.

So I’ll get an idea for a blog and sit down at the computer and start off, and something I say relating to the topic at hand will remind me of something else that I really don’t want to ignore, or which strikes me as more important or interesting than the subject I started off with, and I’ll wander off in pursuit of it, only to come across yet another thought or idea I really should mention. And that leads to another, and another....

And here I stand, over that boiling pot of macaroni, spoon raised in anticipation.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Harvey Milk

They’re making a big-budget, big-star major motion picture on the life and death of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was in some ways to the gay community what Martin Luther King is to African-Americans. It’s taken them thirty years to do it, but far better late than never.

Some years ago, an excellent and moving documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk won an academy award, and plans for a full length, mainstream movie have been on various burners and back burners for years. It finally took producer Gus Van Sant to bring it off. Starring Sean Penn as Harvey, it has an A-list cast. A trailer for the movie, which will be released in November, can be seen on YouTube (just go to YouTube and type in “Harvey Milk Movie”). It’s well worth watching.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (or, I think, to any elected office in the United States), and he became a symbol of pride and a rallying point for 20,000,000 gay and lesbian Americans. If Harvey could do it, other gays could do it...and subsequently did.

I’ve said often before that people who are not a member of a minority—and particularly of an historically persecuted and harassed minority—simply cannot comprehend the power and importance of a sense of validation and pride: the feeling that you have dignity as a human being and, together, can accomplish seemingly impossible goals. And Harvey Milk engendered these feelings within the gay community

Harvey was an unlikely hero. He was just an average guy running a small camera shop on Castro Street when he decided to take on the city’s political establishment and run for Supervisor. And at a time of the rampant bigotry of people like Anita Bryant and attempts to pass laws banning gays from teaching in California schools, he rallied not only the gays of his district in San Francisco, but of the entire city and the entire country.

And when he was assassinated, with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, on November 27, 1978, by former Supervisor Dan White, the shock and grief felt by every gay and lesbian was no less strong than African Americans’ reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King. Harvey was one of us. He gave us a great sense of pride, and to lose him was devastating. And then, when White was sentenced to only two years for the double murder, based on an incredible “defense” of having been on a sugar high from eating too many Twinkies (!!), the shock erupted into rage which led to the worst riots in San Francisco’s history.

But as so often happens as a result of the assassination of leaders, from Harvey Milk’s life and the reaction to his death came the iron-clad resolve for change, and gays began a march for equality which, though not yet over, has changed the nation.

Harvey would have been proud.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Boggled Mind, Part 2

The other day my friend Gary received an email from the head of the FBI, assuring him that the offer of $8,000,000 he had previously received from the widow of the finance minister of Nigeria was perfectly legitimate, and that he should hasten to claim his windfall. Gary was, of course, terribly impressed and eager to send in his “earnest money”, and the only thing that gave him the slightest pause was the fact that from reading the letter it appeared the head of the FBI had never gone beyond the third grade.

Why does this sort of thing continue to drive me into paroxysms of fury? Because I have no doubt whatsoever that out there in the big world, somewhere, someone is falling for this bullshit.

On returning from work Saturday afternoon, I found no fewer than 27 spam messages waiting for me and, mental masochist that I am, I scanned quickly through them before hitting the “Condemn to the eternal fires of hell” button. I have noted that I am for some reason not getting quite as many “Make her scream with pleasure!” notes. I’d like to say I missed them, but neither you nor I would believe that. There were a couple “Actors/Models/Movie Extras Wanted” offers, and “I Guarantee You $25,000 a month”’s, and I’ve expressed my feelings on those before, many times.

The recent trend seems to be “news” headlines (“Brittany Spears having Obama’s baby”) to lure you into opening the message, which would of course unleash more demons upon you than 10,000 Pandora’s Boxes.

I must confess that I have on occasion been curious as to what does lie beyond the “come-on, open me up....please? Pretty please?” opening words, just to see what the sender is shilling, but I never have and never would.

What lies at the base of my anger with these…I cannot come up with an appropriate word…who perpetrate the billions and billions of spam messages clogging the internet like a backed-up sewer…is the knowledge that these things are not harmless; that there are real human beings, naive, gullible, downright stupid, or mentally impaired though they may be, who believe what these messages tell them. How this can happen, I have no idea. But I am infinitely sad for them. And to realize that the spammers know full well what they are doing…that they are like hyenas at the watering hole hoping to pounce upon the weakest members of the herd…is what drives me to such frenzy.

And the knowledge that there is absolutely nothing I can do, personally, to stop them or even slow them down compounds my frustration. There is nothing worse than the feeling of being utterly helpless to change what so desperately needs to be changed.

So I run around, pointing fingers and trying to get others to see what I see in the way that I see it and hoping against hope that maybe if enough people felt the same way, something positive might happen. I’m not sure what, but anything is better than nothing..

And as for the spammers…we could all get together, round them all up, and offer them the choice between life in solitary confinement and a frontal lobotomy.

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