Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Seeking Dr. Pangloss

It never ceases to amaze me how one of the strongest--and, actually, one of the most positive--of human characteristics is our inherent assumption that things should be better than they are. The negative side of that noble trait is that we are as a result constantly being hurt, angered, and frustrated when confronted by reality.

In 1759, François-Marie Arouet Voltaire wrote a little book called "Candide," in which the stalwart young protagonist is beset by an endless string of disasters, guided by his revered teacher, Dr. Pangloss, an utterly incorrigible optimist who assures Candide, with each successive disaster, that no matter how horrific things may be, "we are living in the best of all possible worlds." And Candide believes him!

I've spoken here before about my--and I am far from being alone--deep concern that human society is increasingly less humane: less about human beings as individuals than about making money and the search for power. It is ever-more-difficult to maintain a positive attitude when confronted with the mounting evidence to support this concern.

There is absolutely nothing worse than being made aware, often harshly, that we are utterly powerless to change, or even effect, our own destinies. It is little wonder that so many people turn their frustration into violence, and that so very many innocent people are subsequently made to suffer for things over which they have no control.

We are not only inundated with evidence or our own impotence, but consistently have our noses rubbed in it. If we are not directly exposed to blatant greed and injustice on any given day, there's ample proof of it all around us. I received two emails this morning from my publisher telling me how she had just gotten a 50-inch plasma TV from this wonderful site, giving the link and encouraging me to go to it. And while it was obviously and blatantly bullshit, the realization that not only had someone stolen her identity for this spurious and specious crap, but that people, knowing and trusting her, might actually be suckered into going to the site infuriated me. And she is absolutely powerless to do anything about it! ANYTHING!! The fact that people do this to one another without one single shred of conscience pushes me to the brink of despair. Yet the perpetrators of this outrage can rest in the smug certainty that they can do whatever they want to do to whomever they choose to do it, and the victim is utterly powerless.

This unconscionable disregard for other people is not limited to faceless spammers or corporations. I remember when I was working part time at a supermarket in northern Wisconsin. We closed at 9 p.m. and one evening a woman and her husband came in about six minutes before closing and began shopping. The woman took her time going up and down each aisle. At five 'til nine, an announcement was made over the loudspeakers that the store would be closing in five minutes. The woman was unfazed, and continued her casual browsing. At nine, it was announced that the store was now closed, and for any shoppers to please bring their carts to the checkout immediately. She totally ignored it. Finally, at about ten after nine, as she reached the end of an aisle closest to where I was waiting at the register with lava flowing out of my ears, she merely began to head up the next aisle. Her husband said: "They're closed. We're keeping all these people from going home." She merely looked at him and said casually, "I don't care."

Were it me, I would have simply locked up my register and gone home (or, preferably, gone over and shoved her cart up her ass), but the manager wouldn't allow it. (What, and lose $10 in sales AND alienate a valued customer we had never seen before and would most likely never see again?)

This woman was not unique, and even faced with absolutely unforgivable behavior such as hers, we overlook it when there is a dollar to be made.

Dr. Pangloss, I fear, was right, but with a bitter twist: we live in the best of all worlds possible to us until we can bring ourselves to create any better.

Until then, we are sheep, and will continue to meekly tolerate the intolerable simply because we do not have the guts/courage/will to speak and act in protest of injustice. Until and unless we not only realize that logic and human decency far outweigh greed but act upon that realization, we will suffer the consequences.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Last Night We Climbed a Mountain"

A recent CBS Sunday Morning program featured a piece on nostalgia, and its value to our lives--a theme constantly returned to in these blogs. I find myself perhaps-too frequently going back in time through my long-ago letters to my parents, seeking the comfort of things and people now so long and heart-achingly gone. I am well aware that I now see my Navy days through a more rosy lens than I was wearing at the time, but because the experiences described were written down almost immediately after they happened, they are safe from the cloudiness of memory, which grows thicker with each passing year. And while it is fairly clear in the letters that I was, even while living them, able to appreciate aspects of my service days, their closeness in time prevented me from appreciating them more fully.

Here is one example.

1 April 1956

Dear Folks

Eight-fifteen on Easter Sunday, 1956—a holiday on the calendar only. The whole day has passed in that state of passive nothingness so many of the days do around here. Two months and six days and we’ll be on our way home. 133 days before my discharge.

Tomorrow we leave San Remo for Valencia, from where I hope to go to Madrid. But nothing is certain around here, so we shall see.

Last night we climbed a mountain. Lloyd, myself, and two other mess cooks were out wandering around when we ran into two American girls going to school at the Sorbonne in Paris. One was from Georgia and the other from Louisiana and they had just the syrupy-est drawls you evah did heah. We talked to them for awhile—they speak French with a Southern drawl, which is no mean accomplishment.

After awhile we left them, and Bader (one of the guys) said he knew a nice place “up on the hill.” San Remo is surrounded by “hills” that would stand out like sore thumbs in Illinois. We said OK, and he said: “We can either walk or take a taxi.” Only having about four dollars between us, we decided to walk.

So we walked—it wasn’t so bad at first. As we got into the older part of the city, where the houses cluster together and only grudgingly permit narrow streets, it got a little steeper. At last we came to the “suburbs,” where the houses are more scarce, but where the paths are hemmed in by garden walls. An occasional dim streetlight emits a bare light. The paths became very steep, and on the other side of the walls, the tall silhouettes of poplar trees stand black against a black sky. Now and then a dog barks, but otherwise it is deathly silent, with only the ghostly street lamps far apart.

We came, half dead, to a place where we could look down on the city, twinkling like scattered diamonds, with a necklace of light along the shore reflecting from the water. Out in the water was another group of lights, echoed in long shimmering lines, that might have been a small village on an island—it was the Ti. I could have stayed up there and just looked for hours.

When we finally reached the restaurant, 787 feet above sea level, we had a large plate of spaghetti (for only 50 cents).

Where I’d had trouble coming up, Lloyd had trouble going down—somehow, though the path twisted and turned and there was only one way down, we lost the other two, who’d walked on ahead.

Not wanting to come back to the ship, we went back to the little bar we’d visited every time we’d been ashore, to say goodbye to Maria and her folks. We stayed there for awhile, watching the Milan Opera Company do “Madam Butterfly” on TV, and returned to the ship at about 2300 or so.

And so to bed, after first sweeping down the office—which I am quite sure Boswell never had to do.


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Friday, December 25, 2009

And to All...

Taking the day off, but will be back on Monday. Hope to see you then.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Cards

I do not like to be reminded of how far short I fall of qualifying for sainthood, but the Christmas season provides ample evidence of my shortcomings. I got a beautiful Christmas card the other day, with a warm, hand-written note from a friend who has, over the past several years, endured more physical, emotional, and financial hardships than most people are subjected to in a lifetime. Yet she took the time and effort to reach out in a traditional gesture which is rapidly vanishing: real paper cards sent through the regular mail.

I have, I am almost ashamed to say, not mailed a Christmas card in years. I still have several boxes of cards on a shelf in my closet but I increasingly found that I inevitably put off starting to address them until the last minute. Then, considering that I always want to add a personal note (I am not very good at being brief) in each one--which requires the time for me to be sure my handwriting is even remotely legible--by the time I'm ready to mail them, it's too late for them to arrive by Christmas. And while it is niggardly of me to admit, sending 50 cards at 47 cents postage is not cheap.

So I, like exponentially-increasing numbers of other people, have resorted to sending e-mail greetings. On-line card sites like offer thousands of quite beautiful cards, most with some form of animation not available on a printed card, and the time normally spent on getting a paper card ready for mailing can be used for adding a personal note on each. There are of course drawbacks to e-cards, primary among them being that e-cards tend to be one-exposure events. They cannot be put on the mantle or a coffee table, and those intended for more than one person may not, by the nature of the confines of the computer monitor, be seen by more than the specific e-mail addressee.

Traditional paper cards also involve the comfortably familiar tradition of opening and reading the card, physically transporting it to be set out with other cards, where it will be seen at least peripherally every time anyone glances at the display. And finally, after Christmas, they will be seen again when they physically picked up to be either packed away or discarded.

That traditional Christmas cards should be joining the dinosaur on the track to extinction is hardly surprising considering the sea-change our entire culture is undergoing. I grew up in a world where the exchange of Christmas cards was part of everyone's social fabric, and you felt a strong obligation, if you got a card from someone to whom you had not already sent one, to get one out the same day.

Of course I was also raised in a world before Political Correctness became the 800 pound gorilla in the room...where the majority--meaning white Anglo-Saxon Christians--had relatively little contact with anyone who wasn't also a white Anglo-Saxon Christian. So of course it was "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." There was, for all practical purposes, no Hannukah, or Kwanzaa (which didn't even exist until 1966). Just Baby Jesus and a manger, and the Three Wise Men. There were no atheists or agnostics--or if there were no one paid any attention to what they might think on the subject.

Not all of what has happened in our changing world is bad, but I fear that rather than freeing us, it seems to have restricted us to the point where we must be concerned with whatever we say, lest we offend someone.

I am a practicing Agnostic, but I find comfort in Santa Claus and the manger, and the star of Bethlehem because they were an integral part of my life. And while I don't send them, I enjoy getting Christmas cards (and calling them that). For I sincerely believe there is an overlapping of the secular and the religious...a zone in which warm memories and sincere good wishes far outweigh political correctness or religion.

So please, if you are kind enough to send me a paper Christmas card, don't be offended if I send you an e-card in return. Just remember that it isn't the method but the message that counts.


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Monday, December 21, 2009

Death and Practicality

We humans are an odd lot. The subject of the impending death of someone we care about is one of our culture's collective taboos, and we go to great lengths to avoid even thinking of it until it actually occurs. Even when we know someone for whom we are responsible is dying, we refuse to acknowledge it or make the most basic preparations for it, even when to do so would save untold stress and emotional trauma when the inevitable happens.

My current situation with my friend (and long-ago partner) Norm inspired this particular blog. Norm is dying. I hate even watching these words appear on my computer screen as I type them, yet the fact is inescapable. He has terminal emphysema (Thank you, Philip Morris! Kudos to you Liggett & Myers! Way to go, Marlboro!) and grows just a bit weaker with each passing day. Since his only functional brother lives a couple hundred miles away, and since I've always considered Norm family, I do the best I can to be there for him. Part of that involves my holding his Power of Attorney for health care.

The death of someone close to us, no matter how well we may think we are prepared for it, always comes as a shock. It is the worst possible time for those responsible for funeral arrangements to have to deal with them, and the ability to make rational decisions--especially about what the deceased would really want in the way of the elaborateness and expense--is severely limited. Too often a sense of...what? guilt?...misguided devotion?...leads us to be manipulated into being far more extravagant than logic warrants by a funeral industry which is, despite the number of caring people in it, and its almost universal denial, after all in business to make money.

We have been culturally conditioned to believe that the money lavished on last rites for a loved one is demonstrable evidence of and in direct proportion to how much we cared for the deceased. ("That funeral was a disgrace! Did you see that cheap casket? And after all Aunt Tilly did for them! She deserved far better!") And nothing I can say here will change that.

But the reality--harsh and cold as it may be--is this: the moment the individual makes the transition between being alive and being dead, that person is far beyond knowing or caring what happens to him/her. What is left is no more a person than an egg carton is eggs. The contents are gone. Granted, it should be treated with dignity and respect, but to spend $25,000 for a gleaming mahogany and brass casket which will, within days of being purchased, be either be sent immediately to a crematorium or buried in the ground forever? Come on, people! It is far better to show how much we care for someone while he/she is alive rather than go to unreasonable expense to place one empty shell inside another.

But I digress, as usual. Norm. When my mother was dying of lung cancer (Thank you, Philip Morris! Kudos to you, Liggett & Myers!), I made complete arrangements for her funeral a month before she died, so that when the time came, I was spared the additional trauma of making funeral arrangements. I have never regretted doing so. And now I've done it with Norm. I know, I know, to make funeral arrangements while the person is still living may strike many as cold, callous, or uncaring. But it is not.

Pre-arranging also allows time to resolve any unforeseen problems which might otherwise arise from not knowing what to expect. I was, for example, made aware that the power of attorney which gives me the right to make the arrangements ceases at the moment of death. Which means that had I not been aware of that fact until death had occurred, I would have absolutely no legal right to even call someone to come and pick up the body. At death, the remains become the responsibility of the legal next of kin. I was able to give the society contact information for Norm's brother and immediately called him to convey that information, and thereby undoubtedly saved both of us a considerable amount of anguish had I waited until Norm is gone.

Norm's will states that he wants to be cremated. So last week I joined the Illinois Cremation Society on his behalf. The cost to join is $50, and the subsequent funeral expenses are, on the basic level, far lower than they would be through regular funeral establishments. Everything is handled from the moment of death onward.

Pre-planning still involves making decisions, of course. There are any number of containers/coffins/caskets (with correspondingly escalating price tags), for example, to choose among. But the lack of pressure for an immediate decision allows practicality--such as the full realization that both container and body will be reduced to ashes in the cremation--to be taken into consideration. I therefore chose the most basic and least expensive casket, and feel sure it is what Norm would want.

There are an astonishing array of urns for long-term preservation of the remains (the ashes can even be compressed into something akin to a diamond that can be set into a necklace or pendant), with an equally astonishing array of prices. But since Norm wishes his ashes scattered, a permanent urn was not an issue. Were I making arrangements for myself, I'd just have my ashes put in a paper bag. What would I possibly care at that point? I was shown a couple of very simple containers for the purpose holding the ashes until the scattering. Costing $95 and $125, respectively, both were far more elaborate than I felt practicality dictated, and I chose the $95 one without feeling one whit of guilt or disrespect.

Every penny not spent on unneeded funeral ornamentation goes into the estate, from which a number of worthy charities will benefit. The less on the funeral, the more to the charities and to living people who really need it, which is exactly what I know Norm would want.

And having said all the above, and stressed the importance, logic, and practicality of making funeral plans before they are needed, I can still hear the disapproving "tsk-tsk" of hundreds of years of cultural indoctrination which tells us it is wrong for us to think of death until after it has occurred.

Cultural indoctrination be damned.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

A Night in Cannes

I never tire of my trips back through time, and am infinitely grateful that whenever I feel like doing so, all I need do is go to the stack of letters I wrote to my parents as a very young sailor. Please, come along on another jouney.

8 - 9 July 1956

Dear Folks

And then it was Sunday afternoon—and here I am, all wet-nosed and bushy-tailed, eagerly looking forward to the 35 days I have left in the Navy.

Last night I spent in the U.N. Bar, on Shore Patrol. There were two of us assigned to “keep the peace,” but they needn’t have bothered—that was the only bar in Cannes where the Shore Patrol outnumbered the sailors. The only excitement of the evening came during one of the times the place was fairly crowded. A bunch of guys came in to see the floor show, but they didn’t want to buy anything. The manager told them they’d have to buy a drink or they couldn’t stay. They were completely loaded anyway, but got highly indignant when the manager called off the show in the middle of a dance. Words flew hot and heavy, and we were asked to tell them to get out. Within two minutes, the place was swarming with Shore Patrol—chiefs, officers, and whitehats. Where they’d all come from I can’t guess. At last the insurgents left (calling the owner “A Communist; that’s what y’are; a Communist—won’t serve American sailors. Shore Patrol ought’a lock up the place”), and the Shore Patrol left, and all the other sailors left, leaving just the two of us and the five barmaids.

The “floor show” consisted of a belly dancer who came out in a grass skirt and a lei, and another dancer whose object was rather vague. Prices were terrific, I understand—beer was 275 Francs (about 80 cents). Fortunately, they closed at 12, and we got to come back earlier than the roving Patrol, who stayed out till three.

Cannes late at night is very pretty—the night was warm, and along the boulevard beside the sea, colored lights projected in and from trees and bushes—greens, pinks, blues. People strolled along, not at all in a hurry; out in the water the spangle of lights from an ocean liner glimmered on the water….

The next day was Monday, that being the way things went in those days, and as we look in on our hero, we find him hunched over his pen and paper after a long hard struggle with two sets of whites and an iron.

The movie for this evening is a Hollywood extravaganza called “The Cult of the Cobra” starring no one in particular. It deals with a voluptuous young woman (always good material for a movie) who has the rather annoying habit of turning into a cobra at the most opportune times. She runs (or slithers) about biting people until there is just her, the hero (with whom, as a woman, she is madly in love), and the hero’s girlfriend—of whom the cobra lady is not overly fond. I will not tell you who triumphs in the end, for that would spoil it for you, and I am sure you will want to see it next time it comes to your neighborhood nickelodeon.

One month from today I should receive my discharge, if all goes well. You must excuse me if my letters become wider apart; I honestly don’t feel like writing—no gloom, no nothing—it’s just that if I try to find something to do every single minute, the time goes by so much faster.

I’m sending off another roll of film today, most of it on the Riviera. By the time you get it, I should almost be home, so I’d rather you didn’t look at it. I’m not in it, anyway.

The first week I’m home we’ve got to go to DeKalb so I can pre-register. The first few weeks we’ll have to stick together like glue to make up for the two years I’ve been away.

It is comforting to look at the calendar and know I have more leave time accumulated than I could possibly use.

Tom Dolan loaned me a book of Aldous (“Brave New World”) Huxley’s short stories, and I am considering sending Mr. Huxley a shovel so that he can dig a hole and bury himself alive. If life is so terrible to cynics, why do they bother living it at all?

It is now ten minutes till nine. Above the office, in the barber shop, they are weight lifting. Every time they drop one, it is as though we were inside a bell tower at the stroke of midnight.

You will notice this letter has a 9 cent stamp. I’m desperate. Now to take a shower and then to bed.
P.S. Tell me, do you think Roosevelt really has a chance at a fourth term?

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hustlers I Have Known

Yeah, I know this is generally a pretty PG-rated blog, and I'm not about to go into lurid (though sometimes rather interesting) detail, but for some reason I had occasion to think of hustlers, and to be reminded that prostitution--nor, contrary to popular belief, anything else in the world--is not strictly the purview of the heterosexual majority. It is an integral part of the gay community as well as the straight, and I got to thinking about the hustlers I have known through my life. I've admit I've always been somewhat fascinated by them, though far more from a lifestyle rather than a business standpoint.

In the course of my travels through life, I've encountered a number of both male and female prostitutes and gotten to know--not necessarily in the biblical sense--a number of them, though none very well. Hustling, like female prostitution, is not a glamorous lifestyle conducive to making casual friendships. It is, in fact, by and large a hard and frequently dangerous life.

My Dick Hardesty mysteries is perhaps as a result peppered with hustlers, and Dick's partner Jonathan was in fact hustling when they met, as was another major recurring character, Phil Stark ("Tex/Phil").

While I was in the Navy, I encountered several "ladies of the evening," though only in passing and from a totally non-involved standpoint. You can't be a sailor without running into a number of them. But until I moved to Los Angeles in 1966, I'd never really been aware of their male counterparts.

A very close friend with whom I shared a house in the Hollywood hills was in his mid 50s when I met him, and he collected hustlers like some people collect matchbook covers--not always for the services they provided but because he was, as I became, intrigued with them as people. He was never judgmental and always treated them with respect. As a result, he developed several long and sincere friendships with them. When I first, in my middle-class, middle-west righteousness, asked him how he could frequent hustlers, he said simply: "When I want a hamburger, it is much easier to go out and buy one than kill a cow."

I have talked several times before about one of his hustler friends. Jimmy was in his mid twenties at the time and not only strikingly beautiful but one of the sweetest, most innocent people I can ever remember meeting. He was different from most hustlers I came across in that he did not become hardened over time. He realized he would not be hustling forever, and while I'm sure he never finished high school--he would never even try to play Scrabble--and his exact plans for the future were nebulous, he carefully put one-half of everything he earned from hustling into the bank, against the day when he, whether through choice or necessity, stopped hustling.

It probably wouldn't occur to most people that hustlers are just as prone to danger as their female counterparts...perhaps more so. I had a friend whose roommate hustled, and who went out one night to "go to work" as he put it, and never came back. They found his dismembered body in several Dumpsters around North Hollywood. His killer was never found. (The deaths of prostitutes, male or female, have historically and tragically warranted less attention and concern than "respectable" people.) I based the character of Billy in "The Hired Man"...a book about male escorts...around him.

However, certain hustlers can also be dangerous themselves. Gay men's fantasies often revolve around very masculine men, and many hustlers play on that fact. Most do it just as part of the game, but some play for real. Robberies and even murder of their clients by hustlers is not unheard of.

While I was editing In Touch for Men, I got to know a number of hustlers, many of whom applied to be models for the magazine and, because many of them were extremely attractive, we occasionally commissioned photo shoots for them. One I remember distinctly, and when we did his photo shoot, we did so at my home. He turned out to be the inspiration for the continuing character of Jared Martinson in the Dick Hardesty series. Though he didn't like to talk about himself, I learned he was exceptionally well educated. He was fluent in Russian and, I gather, had a degree in it (as does Jared).

And thus does a writer transfer parts of himself and his experiences into his work.

And why have I devoted an entire blog to a subject largely unknown or of very little interest, and possibly considerable unease, to most people? Because the world abounds in the different, the unusual, and the strange, and we owe it to ourselves to know a little something about as many variations on the human condition as possible. Even if one is not happy with what one discovers, knowledge expands the mind and perhaps gives us a better appreciation of our universe.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, December 14, 2009

Guess What? More Spam!

And once again, the cesspool of my spam folder runneth over, and once again, my knee jerketh in response. Here are a few more choice bits of the spammers's art, cut and pasted exactly as I got them.

"HELLO, - Hello Compliment of the day to you my name is Garry Loopy finance manager Bank of Scotland, i am..." (...aptly named. And I was always under the impression Scotland was an English-speaking country. Obviously, from your note, I was wrong.)

"Burn all the Statues and their shelves - Nor turn aside to Yarrow..." (Uh, most statues are made of stone or ceramic or metal and don't burn, and if they're small enough to stand on a shelf, they're statuettes. But I'm definitely with you when it comes to not turning aside to Yarrow, whatever that's supposed to mean.)

あなたは何を育てる?大人のみが集まる農園 (Now, that's funny! I'll take two!)

"Order what your doc wont give you for Pain-or-Anxiety." (Wow, man! This is, like, fantastic! I stubbed my toe the other day, 'ya know, and my doc refused to prescribe Oxycodon or Percocet or Valium or anything that would really help. Please send me 4 bottles of each.)

"Google is paying my bills! I can't believe how easy this is...." ('Ya know what? Neither can I or anyone with the I.Q. of a baked potato.)

"Make it large nad stone hard." ('Nad?' And what made you think I was taking orders for one of my famous souffles?)

"View pics of local Christian singles!" (Praise the Lord! Where do I go for pics of local godless, they'll-all-burn-in-hell heathen singles?)

"your not old" (My not old what?)

"DEAREST, I AM MRS CYNTHIA ABDUL. I AM A WIDOW BEING THAT I LOST MY HUSBAND..." (Well, yes, Cynthia...that's usually a requirement for being a widow.)

"Twice seven consenting years have shed - In a strange Land and far from home...." (Oh, yeah! Cutesy crap like this always guarantees I'll be just dying to buy whatever it is you're selling.)

"Catherine S. From Rhode Island just received $590 today from google!"(Suuuuuuure she did. Hey, you wanna buy a bridge?)

"Be like Davd M. and earn thousands of dollars a month with google!" (David, meet Catherine and the 14,000 other people I've gotten spam from in the past week with these google pitches.)

Arnita Arlinda "En1argerPenis 3" in 6 Weeks, see myPenis pictures as proof." (Uh, thanks, Arnita, but I think I'll pass. And isn't Arnita a woman's name? Women have penises now?)

"Millionaire wants you to cash in!" (Take out the word "you" and you have the reason behind all spam.)

heidi lowe "C4 Work for Google! 40 - Thought you might be interested in this news article...." (Well, "heidi", other than the fact that the coding clearly says this is one of 4,000 pre-packaged "messages" you've bought a franchise to pass on, the fact is that no, I would not be interested in this news article, or the next piece of recycled garbage you try to foist off on me.)


New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chewing on Tinfoil

Only those who have been unfortunate enough to actually chew on tinfoil can fully appreciate the title of today's blog. My mind being what it is, I found myself this morning making a list of some of the things which induce a similar reaction in me.

The endless Subway commercials featuring "just plain folks,"singularly and in groups, singing "Five dol-lar foot-longs" excruciatingly off-key and obviously under the impression that what they're doing is really, really cute.

Those who think they are really, really "cool."

Baseball caps worn with the bill in any direction other than straight forward (reason same as above).

Al Roker, weatherman, solemnly intoning "It's FOOT-ball Night in A-MAIR-IK-A!!!!"


Plavix commercials' final warning: "Just because you're feeling better doesn't mean you're not still at risk."

Extreme Home Makeover's Ty Pennington's "Goooooooood Morning, Whoeverinhellyouarethisweek Family!" and "Well, I guess there's only one thing left to say."

"...for well qualified buyers."

"No reasonable offer refused!"

"Every application accepted!"

"Emerging science suggests..."

"May help reduce the appearance of..."

"Everyone's talking about..."

"Call within the next three minutes!"

"Not sold in stores!"

Any Infomercial.





Anyone who presumes to speak for God.

"But wait! There's more!" ....which I'll get to at another time.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


My friend Ursula raised sheep, sheared them, spun her own yarn, and had a simple loom on which she wove her own fabrics. The world used to work in much the same way. The distance between the start of something and the end was relatively short. People were never more than a few steps in either direction from the raw materials and the end product. But then the world began to move faster. And faster. And the faster it moved, the more things came between the start and the finish, and the further we were forced from one end of the process or the other until we all but lost track of where the start or the end was, or exactly where we stood between them.

And with not knowing exactly where we stood or stand we become increasingly confused. And with confusion comes frustration and with frustration comes anger. Our entire world has gone from Ursula's simple loom to one of those gigantic factories which spew out mile upon mile of a dizzying array of fabrics from machines than not one person in ten million can possible understand.

It is my sincere belief that the greatest single threat to humanity is the individual's increasing sense of powerlessness. As we become more and more dependent upon technology, our sense of control over our own destiny erodes. Every time we are put on interminable hold by some vast, faceless corporation, we are, despite their condescending and blatantly hypocritical assurances that we are very important to them, being clearly if wordlessly told that we do not matter. That we are human beings is utterly irrelevant to entities---ironically, entities which individual human beings have created---which think only in a language of bottom lines and market shares.

Is it, really, any wonder that people wander around with automatic weapons mowing down other individuals as faceless as themselves? We are dismayed by the violence rampant in our cities' ghettos and barrios and yet one of the things that defines them as such is the lack of opportunity or hope to escape them. And it is a regrettable aspect of human nature that it is far easier to simply spew out one's frustration in violence than to seriously apply one's self to doing something about it.

The old saying, "Those who cannot create, destroy" is tragically and increasingly true.

The growing gap between the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated drives underprivileged young men into gangs which provide a sense of belonging they cannot find from the larger world. It's all a vast spiral moving faster and faster and sucking more and more people into a black hole of helplessness and hopelessness. Crime evolves from gangs comprised of frustrated, under-educated, under-employed young people who come together for some sense of belonging in a world they see as totally alien and alienating. They can find a pathetic sense of security and "superiority." Once in, it is nearly impossible to get out.

In an increasingly homogeneous culture, the more a group stands out from that culture, the more constrictive it is for the people within that group. Dress codes, sub-languages marking one as a member of a sub-group make acceptance by the larger culture harder. Large city gang members, with their swagger and their attitudes and their seemingly total disregard for the welfare of others, are an extreme example. We are desperate for the sense of belonging, of being special in a world more detached, remote, and aloof. We can reach out through our computers and our Twitters and Facebooks and My Spaces to contact faceless people we will never meet. "Networking" supposedly brings us together, yet it in actuality keeps us apart.

Children spend more and more time in structured, adult controlled "activities" than they do in simply being children. There's no time to go climb a tree when soccer practice is in ten minutes, or to sit on the grass and look up and find faces and castles in the clouds.

So are we doomed? I really hope not, but the scales are tipping, and not in our favor. There will always be games for children to play, and moments with friends and quiet, reflexive talk. But my sincere fear is that these things are luxuries available to fewer and fewer people, mainly because they don't realize such luxuries are available. One must think to be free, and why think when our entire world is increasingly willing to spare us the trouble?

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, December 07, 2009

For We Are a Simple People

Just saw a news article on the foreclosure of yet another house built by the "reality" program, Extreme Makeover, Home Edition. Apparently there have been several foreclosures when the owners somehow manage to acquire a hefty mortgage as well as the keys to the house. Occasionally, the mortgage will be paid by the home's builder or some other philanthropic group or individual, in which much brouhaha is made; but apparently the family is saddled with the mortgage on an overly lavish mini-mansion.

This particular program is a perfect example of the subject line of this blog. We tend to believe whatever we are told, and almost never ask the most obvious of questions. Being simple can be a charming trait, but too often it is a very dangerous one. There is all too frequently too narrow a space between being simple and being gullible, and beyond gullible lies the predator-filled jungles of stupidity.

I think I've used Extreme Makeover, Home Edition as an example before, and I really don't mean to pick on it, but let's take a look at an average show, shall we?

The entire project, it is emphasized, takes place in the space of seven days, which is pretty good, since it took God six days to create the universe.

The show begins on a bus speeding toward the family to be featured on the show. The crew watches a video assumedly made spontaneously by the family, who are all included in the shot. Who took the picture? Does everyone have a video camera? Is it a requisite for being considered for the show? Someone in the bus is apparently kept busy peeling onions, for the entire crew, listening to the family's plight, have tears streaming down their cheeks by the end of the presentation. Ty Pennington, their leader, solemnly asks the rest of the crew if they think they can help the family out. I often wonder what would happen if anyone said "No"?

So the bus pulls up in front of the family's usually ramshackle and desperately in need of repair home.
The crew gets out and Ty, using a bullhorn I would love to shove down his throat, screams "Gooood Morning, Blefelenskewiczenhoffer Family!" and immediately the front door of the house bursts open and the family rushes out, jumping up and down and radiating utter surprise and stunned joy. Was no one upstairs asleep when the bus pulled up? Or in the bathroom? Or out in the back yard? Or at the grocery store? No, they had to have been clustered around the door so that by the last syllable of the word "family" they'd be rushing out to greet the crew.

After the unconfined joy settles down a bit, and everyone has hugged everyone else, Ty informs the family that they are going on vacation...immediately! No one had any plans for the day or the week? No one had to call the boss and tell them they weren't going to show up for work? On a couple of occasions, the family was told they were going to Paris--"Paris, France," lest anyone wonders what there is to do for a week in Paris, Illinois. Now, not only does the entire family have their bags packed, but they all have passports! (Well, doesn't every middle class family in Sheepdip, Nevada have passports? Several?)

So off the family....the family who half an hour before had absolutely no idea they had been selected for an Extreme Home Makeover....goes, and immediately, coming down the road, is an army of destruction/construction workers with bulldozers, cranes, and all sorts of heavy equipment. They immediately set to work demolishing the house. One might wonder, if one were prone to do so, and obviously no one ever does, what happens to the furniture. We know it must have been removed at some point because they like to put several cameras inside the house to film the demolition. But when? Did they just pitch it all out the window? The family's only been gone ten minutes.

What about house plans? What about permits? What about building materials and supplies? Obviously they just emerge out of a clamshell, like Athena.

And wham, bam, ziggity zoom, construction begins on a home for a simple family of five or seven or eleven that would make the Taj Mahal look like a squatters' shack. Fifteen foot vaulted ceilings! Domes! Towers! Minarets! Marble entry halls, elevators (in case one of the family has difficulty getting upstairs, which is almost always the case), walk-in wall-less showers, professional-chef kitchens!

And all the children are given designed-especially-for-them, utterly-impractical-within-three-years rooms: fairy castles and secret chambers and model railroad trestles.

And the construction is ruled over by a frenetic Ty Pennington, racing around like a madman while screaming into that damned bullhorn at every opportunity. Give that man a valium, for Pete's sake!

And the family returns and somehow the kids rush right to their own rooms (how did they know which room is theirs?) and euphoria reins. And after all the tears and expressions of joy, Ty Pennington says, with the deep, heartfelt sincerity which comes from having said exactly the same sixteen words at the end of every single show: "Well, I guess there's only one thing left to say. Welcome home, Blefelenskewiczenhoffer Family, welcome home!"

And then he hands them the keys. The mortgage, I assume, comes in the mail.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An Angel Blinks

...and fifty-four years come and go, and a much older--though not much wiser--Roger sits and looks over his own shoulder as he writes another letter to his parents, so very long ago.

2 December 1955
Nine-fifteen and another day shot (to paraphrase a quaint Navy colloquialism) in the posterior. I can’t get over the impression that every day spent in the Navy is a day lost. That isn’t fair, of course; without the Navy I wouldn’t be in Europe—which, surprisingly, has exactly the same type of air, land, water, and human beings as America. So let’s not say every day has been a total loss—just most of them.

An excellent example of the importance of each day may be gotten from the fact that I dated yesterday’s entry as the 30th of November. As a matter of fact, I even neglected to put down “November” and had to add it just now—after first writing December. Now you may see why my letters are addressed AN instead of N/C.

Replenishment today, and I got to watch none of it—instead stayed in the office and held a one-man field day. We were supposed to get aboard 218 tons—how many we actually got is a mystery. One full sling of provisions—about four tons, dropped off the transferring lines and into the sea, still neatly secured. Also lost were a group of movies we were sending to them, which will make them very happy, I’m sure.

Somehow, after the tallies were taken, we ended up with ten cases of rutabaga—you think my spelling is bad, you should see theirs. It took us a full five minutes to decipher it. Where it came from or where it went we don’t know, because no one had ordered it and no one has seen it since.

Always, during replenishment, there is the problem of a little fun-loving graft.. Usually most of the credit goes to the ship sending it over to us. They are supposed to give us, say, 10,000 lb. of steak. We only get 9,000. Where is the other thousand pounds? You guess. So we chalk it up as being lost over the side, or some such thing. Those replenishment ships are the best-fed vessels in the Navy.

And here on board the Mighty T last replenishment, the Engineering department managed to walk off with two cases of fruitcake, one case of assorted nuts, and several crates of oranges. They were caught—that’s the only way we knew about it. Otherwise it would go on our Lost at Sea report.

Today, though, we fooled them. Someone got away with three large crates—no one knew who it was. Later, the crates were found on the hanger deck behind one of the boats; it was three crates of vegetable oil.

Mail call today-one letter from Harry Harrison, the only NavCad buddy I still keep in touch with, one from Sandy Bonne, my cousin, and only one from home.

Payday is tomorrow, and will it ever be welcome! In my pocket at this moment I have 20 Francs and sixpence—a combination hard to beat, but for all general purposes worthless.

I’ve had a book of Shakespeare’s comedies on my desk now for weeks and just haven’t gotten around to reading it—not through lack of will, but lack of time.

Think I sold my small camera today. I hate to get rid of it. I get so childishly attached to this; hate to throw anything away. I’ve always been that way.

I, I, I, I, I—focus your eyes just right and that’s all you can see. Well, how else does one write an autobiography without them?

Taps, Taps—only 284 more times will I have to hear that.

And so (candle in hand) to bed….

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, November 30, 2009

Soap Opera

Because I have never been able to fully dissuade myself from the belief that the sun and stars revolve around me, I have frequently been dismayed to think I may actually, like Jim Carrey in the movie "The Truman Show", be the star of some cosmic bad soap opera, but without the hunks. Everything that happens in my life, because it happens to me, is far more profound and significant than what happens to anyone else. (Your entire family was just wiped out by an axe murderer? You've been diagnosed with terminal Jungle Rot? Lava from an erupting volcano is within three feet of your front door? Sorry to hear it. But you think you've got problems? Let me tell you what happened to ME today....)

I live in a rent-subsidized building owned by the Chicago Housing Authority, which owns a hundred or more similar buildings throughout the city. While the city owns the buildings and sets the rules and regulations for occupancy which apply to all its properties, the actual day-to-day running of the individual buildings is farmed out to several different management companies.

I like the building I'm in. It is convenient to just about anywhere in the city, thanks to the Diversey elevated station half a block away. The thing I do not like about it is that the Diversey elevated station is half a block away, and elevated trains therefore roar within 500 feet of my window every three to five minutes, 24 hours a day. I don't know if they have ever measured decibel levels in my apartment while the trains are passing, but I would think they would be comparable to being located halfway down the in-use runway at O'Hare International Airport.

After three years, I don't even consciously hear the trains, unless I happen to be trying to watch TV with the windows open...or closed. I've become quite adept at lip-reading. But I am quite sure that the noise, even if unnoticed, cannot help but be deleterious to a really good night's sleep.

Recently, a CHA facility less than a mile from my current building, and only four blocks from Lake Michigan, reopened after having been closed for three years for a total renovation. Many of its residents were transferred to my current building when their building closed, and as soon as it reopened, they began moving the former residents back. I put in an application for transfer.

Bureaucracies are of course carefully designed to quadruple the amount of time one would consider the maximum anywhere else. The situation was compounded when my current building switched management companies and fired the entire staff that had worked here for umpteen years. So I waited. And I waited, checking every now and then on the progress of my application. They of course had never heard of me or my application for transfer at the new building, but I persevered, and things finally began to move. A week ago this past Saturday I had someone from the new building come over to "inspect" my living conditions. The fact that both buildings are owned by the CHA and run under exactly the same rules and regulations (which I believe prohibit keeping more than six farm animals in any one-bedroom apartment) meant nothing, since the management companies for the two buildings are different, and therefore each is its own mini-bureaucracy within the larger bureaucracy of the CHA.

But all, finally, seemed to be moving ahead. Then last week I heard rumors that this building has been placed "in quarantine" due to a serious cockroach and bedbug problem. Now, when I moved in here three years ago, cockroaches were indeed a problem, as they are in nearly every large apartment building in any large city. However, thanks to the diligent efforts of the health department, I have not seen a single cockroach in well over a year. And a year and a half ago, there was indeed a bedbug infestation which was not only embarrassing but involved an incredible amount of inconvenience in the process of eliminating them. But it has been over six months since I've heard of the problem.

Nonetheless, I was informed the new building would accept no further transfers until the quarantine was listed. When this might be or who might be doing the lifting was unspecified. Today I went over to the new building to see if this was indeed the case, and was told it was. The fact that they had already accepted several transfers of residents from this supposedly cockroach and bedbug infested hellhole before the new management company took over (and who assumedly brought all their bedbugs and cockroaches with them) of course meant nothing.

How long the "quarantine" will be in effect, I have no idea. But I will be willing to wager a kidney that the lifting of the quarantine will be timed to the very day when the new building has rented out its last apartment.

For thus are The Days of My Life.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, November 27, 2009

Jingle Bells! Jingle Bells!

When I was a lad (oh, dear Lord, not another one of those stories!), in that magical time when human beings came before commerce and money became the end-all and be-all of our society, the Christmas season--and in that totally un-P.C. world it was the Christmas season rather than the Holiday season--began the day after Thanksgiving. Retail stores did not start putting up decorations and bombarding you with "Jingle Bells" on the first of August in order to entice you to "shop early."

And with the door just having closed on another Thanksgiving, the true meaning of the holidays--getting you to spend money--is in full swing.

Of course, Thanksgiving is not--yet--really a money-making holiday, except for turkey raisers and cranberry growers. I'm sure corporate headquarters around the country have research teams on overtime trying to figure out how to milk an extra nickel out of the public. ("Thanksgiving is for gift-giving. Get your beloved a sterling-silver turkey charm! Only $99.99!" "Collect the entire 224 piece 'The First Thanksgiving' figurine set. Each exquisitely-crafted ceramic piece sold separately!" "Life-sized Puritan lawn figures, just $199.99 each!")

Holiday traditions appear to be less and less about the original meaning of the holidays and more and more about ways to spend money. Any random hour spent watching television or reading a newspaper or magazine makes it clear that how much you care for your loved ones is directly proportional to how much money you spend on their gifts. Increasingly we are being relieved of the necessity of actually spending the time and effort to shop for specific present, and encouraged to simply give gift cards. (Though to be honest with you I really don't object to gift cards, and am happy to get them. If I'm not sure what someone would really like, or whether they don't already have ten of whatever I'm thinking of getting, a gift card enables them to get what they really want rather than something they'll seldom if ever use.)

Holidays change for each of us as we grow older. The self-centered wonder of childhood slowly fades with the realization that there are others in the world other than ourselves. The joy spreads out to the giving of gifts as well as the receiving them, and the pleasure of seeing others open their gifts nearly equals that of opening our own.

But despite the utterly cold commercialism of so much of the "holiday season," the true spirit of holidays lies now and always primarily in family and friends, and within ourselves. Those of us who were blessed with loving families know full well that their true value lies not in gifts received, but in the spirit in which the gifts, spiritual and emotionally as well as materially, are given.

I will always remember that one year when I was probably around 7 or 8, I wanted a doll house. I in no way related doll houses with girls...they were just another outlet for my imagination. But my dad did not believe boys should have doll houses and wouldn't allow my mom to buy me one. So she made me one out of an orange crate. I've never forgotten it, or her demonstration of love in giving me something I really wanted.

As the years pass, most of us start our own families and our own traditions. But for many of us who do not, holidays tend to lessen in importance as we lose the people we so strongly associate with them.

Depression during the holidays is very common, and very real, as memories of, and longing for, holidays gone from us forever rise to the surface. I deal with this problem by looking at a holiday as simply another day. I still appreciate their significance to others, and derive pleasure from spending them with friends. (While I still have cousins who mean the world to me and remain the cornerstones of my existence, I tend to decline their always-kind holiday invitations with thanks and real gratitude simply because I then would have to face all those memories and longings I choose not to acknowledge. Hey, it works for me.)

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Bologna Sandwich

Shortly after I returned home from Mayo Clinic after my successful treatment for tongue cancer in 2003, I had the indescribably overpowering craving for a huge glass of orange juice, which lasted for days. I was at that point still taking all my nourishment through a stomach tube and was unable to swallow anything. I probably could have poured it into the stomach tube, but it was the taste I wanted.

And then when, months later, I was slowly able to resume eating and drink, I discovered that the acidity of that long-anticipated glass of orange juice burned my mouth.

Today, for some unexplained reason, I had an overpowering urge for a bologna sandwich...white bread, two thick slices of bologna, a slice of cheese, mayonnaise, a little catsup and mustard between the bologna slices, maybe a lettuce leaf. I fantasized about opening my mouth wide, taking a big bite, chewing, swallowing, then another big bite, chew, swallow until the sandwich is gone.

It has been six years now, and I still cannot believe that I will never again have a bologna sandwich...not a whole one, at any rate, and even then not even one single bite without having to take a sip of water to accompany the act of swallowing, to wash it down. And never with the ease and pleasure I associate with the thought of a bologna sandwich.

I know, I know, it sounds like I'm doing one of my Roger at the Pity Pool numbers. I never have been one to suffer in silence. But really, I'm not writing this to solicit sympathy. Sympathy is not called for in any event. I'm just trying to convey to everyone who takes such ordinary, simple actions for granted the incomprehensibility of suddenly being unable to do so.

I bitch a lot...a lot...about the things I have been deprived of, and how incredibly much I miss them. Yet I also realize how lucky I am compared to so very many people whose limitations are far greater than my own. Only people who have been deprived of things they have always taken for granted can fully appreciate what they no longer have or can do.

My "afflictions" are to a large extent limited to such simple things as swallowing and eating. I cannot imagine what so many other people endure without nearly so much complaint, and I know I should be ashamed of myself. I am truly in awe of what those countless numbers of people suffering fatal illness or severe physical limitations must go through every day.

But rightly or wrongly, I justify my eternal bitching in these blogs as being a cautionary tale of how quickly and how completely one's life can change, and how very important it is for each of us to realize it. I cannot urge you too strongly to take just a moment in the middle of any simple, un-thought-of daily action, like eating or running or turning one's head, and think of the myriads of tiny interactions of mind and body which are involved in and necessary to accomplish them. Of course you can't possibly stop to consciously think of every single action you perform; that's why they are for the most part totally automatic--so you don't have to. But to give an occasional moment to how utterly fascinating it is that we can do them at all can give a far greater appreciation to life.

And the next time you see a person with physical disabilities, resist the all-too-common reaction of pity, which too often is really just glorified condescension, and replace it with empathy by putting yourself, for just a moment, in their place.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, November 20, 2009


Over the years I have become something of an expert at self-delusion. I can honestly convince myself, short of defying the laws of physics, of almost anything. I hasten to add I am not so delusional that I am unaware that they are delusions, but they are harmless, and they give me a great degree of comfort.

My chief delusion is that I am ageless...well, actually I'm somewhere...anywhere...under the glass ceiling between youth and maturity. This delusion is quite easy to maintain except for when I am in the presence of reflective surfaces, and even then I can sometimes convince myself that I have absolutely no idea who that person is. I adopted this particular form of illusion from Don Quixote, whose ultimate enemy was a mirror.

Delusions are the armor many of us don to do battle with the world. The protect us...some to a greater degree than others...from the harshness of reality, and as long as they do no harm to ourselves or others, there is no real need to dissuade ourselves of them.

I've often used the example of one of the characters from the play The Madwoman of Chaillot who, every day, year after year, read the same newspaper--the same newspaper--because she liked the news in it. What was really happening in the world neither affected or concerned her. I empathize with her completely. I often choose to simply ignore those things which I know would make me unhappy if I were to acknowledge them. I may be deluding myself, but what does it matter, really?

Most delusions are restricted to the mind of the deluded, and it is only when they take physical manifestation do they normally call the attention of others. (The mental picture springs to mind of a 240 pound woman in a bikini, or the elderly man with a black toupee plopped atop the grey hair of his sideburns. And even then, they more often affect the viewer than the wearer.) We all see ourselves very differently than other people see us, but the more delusional we are, the greater the gap in perception.

Like most things, delusions can be positive or negative. I constantly berate and belittle myself for every perceived imperfection and flaw, and for falling far short of who I feel I should be. Yet this is as unfair as deluding myself into assuming the possession of sterling qualities not in fact in existence. I know I'm not...nor could I be...quite as worthless and stupid as I too frequently paint myself as being. But I do it partly out of disappointment that I am not living up to my own potential, or to what I perceive myself as being. And I have, as I've mentioned frequently, an odd compulsion to point out my failings as a first-strike defense against having other people do it for me. ("You don't have to tell me how bad I am: I already know.")

I honestly envy some people their delusions--specifically those which lead them to believe they can accomplish things which reality clearly says is far beyond their reach. Their delusions encourage them to get out there and at least try for something they really want, even though the odds are clearly or even overwhelmingly stacked against them. They are far better off than people like me, who don't try for something I am convinced I can never achieve.

The wondrous thing is that many of the major advances in science and technology throughout history have been achieved by people everyone assumed to be delusional.

I am really quite comfortable with my own delusions. They're like an old robe or favorite pair of slippers I wear constantly. And I truly believe the world would be a happier and less stressful place if more people allowed themselves to indulge their own.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From Spam to Eternity

I've been posting these cesspool scrapings for some time now, and still in all sincerity cannot comprehend how the sub-humans who turn out this crap can actually expect anyone...anyone, anywhere, any open one of their messages, let alone be gullible enough to buy anything from them. That enough people apparently do fills me with despair for the future of our race.

So here, once again, are some random shoe-scrapings and my Lord-help-me-but-I-can't-help-but-react, knee-jerk responses.

"You can learn any language in 10 D" (Not enough to speak it, however.)

andrew - "Re: sending you what you wanted - yo mate, ok I'll give you my trick but if you give it someone else I'll fuckin kill you." (Yo, Andrew, this is the 15th time I've gotten this identical piece of cutsey-poo bilge from 15 different people. Enough, already.)

"Bessie will help you pack your things." (Bessie knew I was moving? That girl is a true psychic!! How can I possibly repay her?)

"Your order is ready to be shipped." (Great! May I suggest where you can put it while you're waiting for my check?)

"Congratulations! You have a $12,600 commission check waiting!" (I do? Really? That's wonderful! Thank you so much! Please send it right along! Shall I hold my breath until it gets here?)

"I waited to hear if I was going to school." (But your mommy shouldn't let you play with her computer while you wait.)

"Give her aggressive drilling! Make your banana huge...." (I'm sorry? What does being a dentist or working on an oil rig have to do with bananas? I'm afraid you're just too subtle for me.)

"Crazy Sale Prices - Your girl taken to the hospital..." (Excuse me? Can we say "non-sequitur," boys and girls? I would ask again just how stupid you think I am, but I already know the answer.)

"Never miss a touchdown again with Dish Network!" (Don't worry, I don't miss them now. Never watch them and sure as hell don't miss them.)

"(Unknown Sender) (No Subject)" (Oh, yeah, you can be sure I'm gonna open that one!)

"The $12,000 monthly Income Information You Have Requested--Hi~~NAME~~. This is unbelievable..." (That I would request anything at all from some hack spammer who can't even fill out his own form correctly? Well, yes, that is indeed unbelievable.)

"Though home or shelter he had none - When smitten by the morning ray...." (In other words "Concentrate only on the watch. You will hear only my voice. You are getting sleepy....")

"$120,000 per year working part-time. Click here." (Let's see, that would break down to $60 per hour for a regular 40-hour week, 50 weeks a year with two weeks for vacation. Since it's "part time," that would equate to considerably more than $60 per hour. And you have to send out spam to find someone willing to work for more than $60 per hour? Gee, should I Click Here? Let me think.)

"There is no doubt that, while the metalbearing lands fell into the opened mouths of the spaniards..."
(And there is equally no doubt that you are so full of s**t your eyes are brown.)

As they used to say, "Roll up your's too late to save your shoes."

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, November 16, 2009

No Time for Words

We each live, basically, in two worlds...the tangible,"real world" of day to day existence, and the intangible world of the mind...and the percentage of time and effort we spend in each world varies from person to person. Most people are so busy dealing with the countless details and demands of the real world--work, going to and from it, eating, errands and chores and tasks, face-to-face interactions with family, friends, and coworkers--they have relatively little time available for the intangibles of the mind.

The intangibility of thoughts--except for those which can be directly expressed physically (a kiss, a thumbs-up, a punch in the nose, or some other universally-recognized gesture)--is why language was invented. Without words, most thoughts would be limited to the brain of the thinker.

Though words can be conveyed either verbally or through writing, I rely almost entirely upon writing as my means of communication. I write because I do not communicate well when speaking. In conversation, I seldom say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. My mind races ahead of my tongue, or falls behind it, or trips over it. My head is always full of words...finding the specific ones and putting them together the way I want them within the framework of the time available is the problem. By the time I think of just what I want to say, I've usually missed the window of time in which to say it. So rather than wait, I tend to blurt out the first thing that pops into my head.

I'm not alone in this, of course. Have you ever read a verbatim transcript of anyone speaking spontaneously without some sort of prepared script? Broken sentences, trail-offs, whiplash changes of subject; that we ever manage to understand one another is amazing.

And when someone so dependent upon communicating via the written word is deprived of the chance to do so, the results are disconcerting at the very least.

In the past week or so, I've found myself in that position. I've been submerged in the real, non-verbal world by the process of helping my friend Norm, who is currently in a nursing home with severe emphysema, move into a one bedroom apartment in an assisted living facility. He's lived in his 2-bedroom + den condo for more than 30 years. Because he is physically unable to do anything for himself, or even return to the condo, I've assumed the responsibility of managing all aspects of his move...selecting what to take, packing, arranging for a mover, then figuring what to do with everything left behind, putting the condo up for sale, selling his car, etc. I don't mind; I know Norm would do the same for me, but it is time consuming.

All this coincides with my own plans to move to a newly renovated building about a mile from my current apartment and four blocks from Lake Michigan--and also far from the constant roar of elevated trains running 500 feet from my window 24 hours a day. While I'm not sure of the exact date of my move...I haven't even gotten final authorization from the new building yet...I've been collecting and packing boxes in anticipation.

None of the above activities involve much in the way of written communication. But it has, regrettably, sharply limited my time available for writing. When I do manage to squeeze out a few minutes to write, I find it difficult to concentrate on what I'm trying to say. I start off to write a blog (and this one is a perfect example), get about one sentence and three words into it, and suddenly wonder if the box I have to pack my statue of Hamlet will be big enough? Or I'll be trying to thing of a "words" analogy that will make any sense and find myself wondering if we should try to carry some of Norm's paintings over to his new apartment rather than trust them to the movers.

Well, I take some consolation in the thought that this is temporary, and that things will eventually settle down and I can get back to writing. Exactly when, I'm not sure. And in the meantime, please bear with me.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, November 06, 2009

First Jobs

All my life I have considered work to be a necessary evil, and I was reflecting the other day on my earliest adventures in the working world. For me, that began in 1958, when I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.A. in English--one of the most economically worthless degrees known to man, unless one plans to teach. I did not plan to teach. I immediately moved to Chicago to take on the world.

My very first after-college job was with the Olson Rug Company, whose triple claim to fame was: 1) “Olson Rugs are reversible”; 2) “We use your own wool”...which meant if you sent in a sack of wool from your pet sheep, Olson would supposedly use it in making your new rug...a bit impractical, but people actually would send in hair from their beloved dog, and Olson would accept it; and 3) “Olson Rugs Do Not Burn”....but they did smolder.

The Olson Rug Factory was something of a Chicago landmark. It was huge, and it featured on one corner of its property, a really beautiful garden with waterfalls which was a great tourist attraction...a precursor of the much larger Bush Gardens which came later. It attracted people from all over the area, and my folks and I had come all the way from Rockford when I was a kid to see it.

I was assigned to a two man department devoted to responding to customer inquiries, some of which I’ll get to in a moment. This was in the days long before what we now recognize as computers, but we did have available to us an absolutely-state-of-the-art behemoth of a machine which could seat two people, as I recall and which was, in effect, a great-great-grand-uncle of a computer. It contained probably 25 “stock” paragraphs dealing with the most common questions sent in. So I would sit at there and type in: “Dear Mrs. Smith: #1, #14, #8, #4, Type” (yes, type, as on a built-in automatic typewriter). Very rarely I’d have to actually compose a paragraph for which there was no stock response.

Several things kept me amused. One was collecting the names of some of the people who wrote in. There was Peachy Poff, Mitzpah Frau, Quo Vadis Cone, and Placenta Palmer...and I swear I did not make those names up. Who could?

And the inquiry letters were often a delight. We received many along the lines of the following:

Dear Olson Rug Company:
My wife and I entertain a lot, and if you will provide rugs for our home, we will tell everyone they are Olson Rugs, and your company will benefit greatly from increased sales.

Uh huh.

But my favorite letter was from a woman also asking for free rugs, in exchange for which she would give us THE SECRET. She had, she explained, “tried to give it to the Sheriff, but he was sitting on two chairs.”

We passed, though I always did rather wonder what THE SECRET might have been.

I lasted at Olson for approximately a year, then found a job—probably because I could clearly read the “Dead End” signs with Olson—with an insurance company in the Loop where I was, inexplicably, some sort of insurance adjuster. I have absolutely no recollection now of what I did or why I even thought I might have any interest in being an insurance adjuster (which, as it turns out, I did not). But it did get me started as an editor, when I suggested that the company really needed an in-house monthly newsletter, and they agreed. It was called “Hear Ye” and was an incredibly amateurish affair with a hand-lettered title, and produced by mimeographing on regular 8 ½ x 11 paper...but at least it was white paper, and not the yellow lined notepaper. I did have my standards.

I was with the insurance company for probably a year and a half, then moved onward and upward to Duraclean International, a rug and upholstery cleaning organization which sold cleaning franchises in several countries, where I was associate editor for their house organ, the Duraclean Journal. (Probably my sterling service with Olson rugs may have influenced their decision to hire me.)

I really found a home there. Very nice people, and I had the opportunity to travel around the country to conduct seminars for groups of franchisees.

The only drawback was that I lived on Chicago’s near north side, and Duraclean was located in the suburb of Deerfield, which was quite a trek. Even that would not have been too bad, but I had to cross, as I neared my work, the Illinois Central’s commuter rail tracks. And every single morning, no matter if I was 10 minutes early or 13 minutes behind schedule, a commuter train would wait until it saw me coming, then race down the tracks just in time for the gates to lower before I reached them. (A coincidence, you say? I don’t think so.)

I was with Duraclean for six years…actually the longest time I ever spent on any single job…and I left only when my partner and I broke up and I decided to move to California. But that’s quite another story, which we shall get to anon.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, November 02, 2009

Oh, Spam!

I don't want to look. Really, I don't. But every now and then something that is not spam ends up in my spam folder, necessitating an always-intended-to-be quick scan of the effluvia contained therein to be sure I'm not throwing away something I shouldn't. And try though I might, I cannot resist knee-jerk responding to the come-on phrases intended to get suckers to open the message (the equivalent of unwrapping a soiled baby diaper).

So here, yet again, are a few noble examples of the spammer's art, and my reaction to them.

"Re: sending you what you wanted" (Since there was neither a check nor a copy of your suicide note, you didn't.)

"Millionaire wants you to cash in!" (No, millionaire wants to make more money...from anyone stupid enough to open the message.)

"A miracle took place" (Oh? You mean someone actually did open your message?)

"I made a blog." (Good for you! Now if we can just get you potty-trained....)

"She loves it when I go this much deeper, she gets overwhelmed by her orgasm...." (Oh please, please TRY to imagine how little I care!)

"Just read your letter." (Suuuure you did. But I have no intention of reading yours.)

"My fingers fidget like ten idle brats..." (While mine race to find the "delete" key.)

"Vitaminize your desire! Recipe of hotter lust" (Yessirreee, I'm always looking for new ways to vitaminze my desire. Does the recipe include Tabasco sauce and jalepenos?)

ncortes: "Sea-gull - mevo. -- In 1560 mendoza was abruptly ordered by king philip ii. Hello, I am Allegra Henstridge...." (Whoa! I'm getting whiplash, here! What are you talking about? You're Alegra Henstridge? Then who the hell is "ncortes"? Who's mendoza? What's he got to do with King Philip II? Philip ordered Mendoza to do what? And you...whoever you are...actually expect anyone in their right mind to buy something from you? Good luck with that one, Charlie...or ncortes, or Alegra, or mendoza, or philip, or....Sigh. I think I'll go lie down for a bit.)

"Get an omnipotent porksword!" (What a lovely, lovely mental picture you conjure up. Please, let me have a dozen of whatever it is you're selling, you silver-tongued rascal, you.)

Flossie Cortez - "女性からのお願いを聞いてもらえませんか?" (Oh, Flossie! You're such a card! Of course 願いを聞いてもらえませんか!)

"Did you call me?" (Take a wild guess.)

"What does Bessie say I've done?" (Other than bug the crap out of me? I neither know nor care.)

"Cheap Fashion Accessories." (Ah, yes....sweets to the sweet, I always say.)

"Afraid of being caught sleeping?" (Uh, not between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m., no.)

"Did you suffer a Gallbladder injury while using Birth Control?" (My God! However did you know?)

"Get ready to tough day." (Ok, as soon as I figure out how "to tough day" became a verb.)

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, October 30, 2009


There was a fascinating documentary a couple of years ago about a group of newly hatched geese which imprinted on a researcher--the first creature they saw upon hatching. To the hatchlings, the researcher was their parent. They followed him everywhere and he had to assume the role of an adult goose in order to show them how to be geese. When winter approached and the time came for them to migrate, the researcher learned to pilot an ultra-light aircraft in order to lead them south. Viewed from the ground, they formed the perfect V, with the researcher and his little open aircraft at the head of the V.

Though imprinting studies have mainly been done on birds, it is a factor in other species, Man included.

Imprinting is not always as instantaneous an event as bonding with one's parents. It continues slowly through early childhood and goes far beyond the usual imprinting between parents/children. Mine was a slower process, though the end result is still with me. Imagination is a very important tool in the imprinting process. It helps children learn, grow, make choices that will remain with them throughout life, and helps them understand the world as it really is. But having used the imagination to help in the imprinting process, most children make the transition between reality and make believe naturally. I never did. I imprinted early-on on make believe and on happily-ever-after and pretty much stopped there.

My imprinting on happily-ever-after is probably responsible for the fact that I spend so much of my time in frustration when things do not go the way they are supposed to go. (You'll note I did not say "the way I think they are supposed to go"--the way they are supposed to go is the way they are supposed to go. Period.) If I can do it in imagination, I damned well should be able to do it in reality.

I find it significant that even at a very young age, listening to and later reading fairy tales, it was never the princess I concentrated on (or ever, for one single moment, identified with), but the handsome prince. I never grew out of it, which I am convinced is a major reason I, sincerely, have such a hard time accepting reality.

I doubt one's sexual orientation is influenced by imprinting. I sincerely believe that being gay is no more a conscious choice than the decision to have brown eyes. However, if it were, the first person I ever set eyes on must have been the doctor or a male nurse.

And again imagination comes into play. I have always loved beauty, and grace, and charm, as I perceive them, just as I have always expected thoughtfulness and common civility as encompassed by the Golden Rule to be. I love the idea of romantic love, and yet relate it, for myself, only to beautiful (in my eyes) men because beautiful men embody everything I have always longed for. But I have never succeeded in believing myself to be beautiful--a fact verified by every reflexive surface.

There are many different types of love between humans--the love of family, the broader love of friends, and the very special love between just two humans, which is differentiated from the other forms by the element of sexual attraction. But my personal concept of romantic love and sexuality attraction includes only men. Women have always been, to me, a totally different species. But my love for women is and has always been strictly of the friends-and-family type, totally devoid of any romantic or sexual-attraction component. While I realize this is all but incomprehensible to most people--and I'm sorry to say may possibly be offensive to some--it is simply a statement of fact and has never been an issue for me.

The combination of my early imprinting on fantasy at the expense of reality, my totally unrealistic assumption that I am somehow separate and apart from everyone else, coupled with my expectations for myself being infinitely higher than could ever be realized...and the resultant self loathing that evolves from it, have produced the person writing this blog. I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad. It doesn't matter. It just is.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Listen Up!

Okay, people: listen up. I have had enough of this crap, and am planning a coup to take over the world. Once I do, here are a are a few of the changes that will be institutedmmediately.

As I understand it, the game of football is divided into four quarters of fifteen minutes each. Therefore, a football game should last exactly one hour, not six. Under my rule, each quarter will last exactly fifteen minutes. Once the clock is started, it will not be stopped every ten seconds for periods of up to ten minutes each. Fifteen minutes per quarter! There will be five minutes between the first and second quarters, twenty minutes for the ubiquitous halftime festivities between the second and third quarters, and another five minute break between the third quarter and the end of the game. That's it. Is that clear?

The words "under God" will be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. They were not there in the original, they are not needed, they are exclusionary and divisive. They will be out!

Baseball hats will be worn with the bill facing forward. That is why they were shield the eyes from the sun. Anyone wearing a baseball hat with the bill backwards will have the hat confiscated and be issued a warning. Two violations will result in a sizable fine. Anyone attempting to be "hip," "cool," "with it," etc. by wearing the bill pointing other than directly forward will have the hat yanked off their head, filled with Crazy Glue, put back on forceably, and be marched directly to jail where they will be placed in solitary confinement until the hat falls off on its own.

All rap songs will be submitted to a panel prior to release. Any lyrics containing words derogatory to women or other minorities ("ho," "bitch," "muthafukka," etc.) will be stricken--which will leave most with no lyrics at all. "Songs" consisting of only one or two words endlessly repeated will be banned; all will be required to have recognizable sentence structure, and be sung so as to be intelligible to the average listener.

Pants will be worn so that the top is within three inches of the belly button. Those worn around the knees will yanked down to the ankles and the wearer required to wear them in that position while completing 50 hours of community service.

English will be the official language of the United States. No one will ever have to "Press 1 for English". Our forefathers came here from around the world and they learned to speak English, and they did it. To be able to become a citizen of a country it will be mandatory to speak its language.

Any corporation, company, or organization with a phone number for customers to call will be required to hire enough people to answer every call received within twenty seconds. Severe fines will be imposed for every second a customer has to sit on hold beyond the fourth ring.

"Your call is very important to us" messages will be banned. Pressing a succession of 53 buttons before being able to speak to an actual human being will be a criminal offense.

No corporate executive will be paid more than ten times the wage of the average worker. Bonuses will be limited to a turkey at Thanksgiving and a maximum $100 cash bonus at Christmas.

Campaigning politicians will, under law, be limited to telling voters what they will do to benefit their constituents, and be forbidden to criticize their opponents' records or character.

Handguns will be banned. Period. No argument, no debate. The NRA will limit itself to issues involving sport hunting, and be forbidden to engage in any form of political activity. All defensive weapons will be required to be non-lethal in nature (tazers, pepper spray, mace).

Every email message sent will be required to include the correct return email address of the sender, and stringent penalties will be imposed for obvious spam messages.

Every claim made by an advertiser must be proven to be true before it can be made.

"Don't ask, don't tell" will be struck down immediately, and penalties for hate crimes increased.

Parents will be held legally accountable for the actions and be required to actively participate in the education of their children.

Littering within 100 feet of a waste receptacle will result in stiff fines, to be doubled with every succeeding offense.

These are only some of the changes I plan to implement. I may list more later. Don't say I didn't warn you.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, October 16, 2009


I've noticed--perversely, almost to my regret, but not quite--that the number of spam messages, especially of the "Make her scream with pleasure" and "Add 14" to your manhood" variety have fallen off drastically of late. I'd like to think it is because my internet server is finally getting wise, but I doubt it.

Anyway, here is the latest culling from the cyberspace garbage, with the "come on" of the message exactly as received, and my Pavlov's dog response.

"What's this?" (Why, this is spam! I'm surprised you didn't notice it. I spotted it a mile away.)

mary LAST_NAME "are you bored lonely and wanting some spice? I'm cathy and I..." (You're cathy? You just told me you were mary LAST_NAME? It's so hard to know who to trust these days.)

"Still dislike me?" (Hey, you're pretty perceptive for a spammer!)

"You can joinUp with our dating community without a nickel-being spent!" (Or, I can not join up with your dating community without a nickel-being spent." I like that option better.)

"Will the 90 day Wealth Challenge bring you financial triumph?" (Gee, that's a tough one. Let me take a really wild guess...)

"Make her want it 24/7" ("It"? Can you be a bit more specific? You spammers are so subtle it's difficult to know what you mean.)

"and the long-eared own standing watchover a dark churchyard laughed..." (and the short-tempered writer wading through his spam messages thought this was clever, but not clever enough to make him open it.)

"Assistance..Needed. Dear Friend, I am Mr. Zhang tiejun, Foreign operations manager, Bank of China, Hong Kong...." (Do you suppose I might ask how, out of 6 billion people on the planet, you wrote to me?)

"Become a photographer from the convenience and comfort of your home!" (Uh, doesn't that sort of limit my range of things to photograph?)

"Shall Life Renew these bodies of a Truth?" (I don't know...shall it? But first, what the hell are you talking about? ...Never mind, I don't want to know.)

"You're a jerk!" (Why thank you, you silver-tongued rascal you. That's sure to get me to read your post! But we'll have to wait until hell freezes over.)

"Unable to understand you. --It Blighty praps he sees his plucks all gone...." (Whereas you are a beacon of clairty.)

"Unable to call you." (Thank God.)

"Fall asleep, fall asleep--As I walked along the hallway and down the stairs of Gateshead Hall..." (Wow! Just those few words and I'm halfway there.)

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yesterdays and Today

If you've been following these blogs for any length of time, you know how I enjoy being able to travel back more than 50 years to my navy days, thanks to the letters I wrote to my parents at the time. I am infinitely grateful to my folks for keeping them. And as always, all I have to do is read one of those letters, and I am there.

Fifty-five years ago yesterday, I had been in the Naval Aviation Cadet program almost exactly two months, and was still in Pre-Flight training. Put today aside for the moment, and sit beside me in my barracks room in Pensacola, Florida, as I write.

Wednesday, October13, 1954

Today we saw a movie in P.T. on “How to Survive in the Tundra” (semi-arctic regions). It was one of those “how to survive on a broken compass & old fish heads” things. I thought it was terrifically funny (though it wasn’t supposed to be). Of course there were, among the six marooned men, several familiar characters. There was a George Washington Carver who could whip up a tasty dish out of a bunch of rock lichen; a Daniel Boone type, who could (and did) trap everything from a lemming (a glorified field mouse—they are delicious) to a caribou which, unfortunately, they missed—they had set up an ingenious device with two twigs and a 90-lb piece of sod, but the caribou outsmarted them (not a difficult task, I assure you); and, of course, there was the General-All-Around-Genius who could make more things out of one lousy parachute than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio. This latter genius also, in his spare time, made a dandy kite (out of the parachute, of course) for attracting airplanes—I expected at any moment to see him attach a key to it and discover electricity, but he never got around to it.

Now, to answer dad’s questions—I want just my one suitcase, so that when I come home Xmas I’ll have something larger than my duffle bag to pack my things in. Send them (or rather it) any time you want, just so it’s fairly soon. Yes, the band instruments are furnished, & I hope to stay on after moving to Corry Field or Whiting Field (which I’ll do on or about Nov. 26).

I surely am glad I joined the band! I told you, I think, all about what we may get to do. November 20 we are going to the Duke-South Carolina game (the Duke-Georgia Tech game would be too soon for us to be ready). We will all be flown to Durham, North Carolina for it. Last Saturday night we played for the Admiral at a football game, and he liked us so well he’s planned a “surprise” for us (which, it is rumored, may be a trip to the Army-Navy game!). Miami is still pending. Nov. 11 we’re to lead a parade in Pensacola. Four days before Xmas vacation, if all goes well, we will be flown to New York City to appear on “Toast of the Town”; then we’ll fly home from there if we want. God, I’d give my life’s blood to get to New York for four days!!

Haven’t been doing much of anything lately except study—haven’t even gone to a show in two weeks! Saturday morning we have band practice, but Saturday afternoon I hope to get downtown to pick up my picture. I hope you like it—it will have to be hung as it is too large to put atop the record cabinet.

Did the movies come? Have you looked at them yet? The large blank space at the beginning is where I had written “Welcome to Florida” in the white sand, but it was evidently too bright.

Well, I’d better close for now. I would appreciate your sending some money for new film. (Note—this is the first time I’ve ever written home for money! I’ve gotten $15 from you all the time I’ve been here, and that’s pretty inexpensive if you ask me).

I’ll try to write more this weekend. Till then I am
As Always

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at