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.

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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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