Monday, June 29, 2009

27 June, 1955

Not many people can tell you where they were or exactly what they were doing 54 years ago...hell, most people hadn't even been born 54 years ago..., but I can. I was a 21 year old Naval Aviation Cadet stationed in Pensacola, Florida, writing a letter to my parents. And here it is:

27 June 1955

Dear Folks

Yes, it’s me again & no, I’m not ill. It’s just that I’ve grown momentarily tired of watching the many-legged little beasties running up & down the walls near the sink. Glancing by my left foot, I notice a recently deceased member of the clan. Speaking of the sink, the faucet drips (the hot water tap), making a rust-colored spot on the otherwise white porcelain. The fan is doing a thankless & futile job of trying to cool the room, but Pensacola’s summers are no match for anything less than full air conditioning.

Whereas yesterday it rained & made itself generally disagreeable, today it did not—the sun glared down until early afternoon, when dirty grey clouds started to form. The sun might as well have spared its efforts this morning, on me at least, since I was in the nice air-conditioned ground school building answering such questions as

PNS M490 50 0 8 172/79/70 (left arrow) 8/992 RW-E25
1) in the above sequence report
2) the ceiling was measured at 4900 above ground
3) fog will not be present unless the wind shifts
4) rain showers ended at 25 minutes past the hour

In case you hadn’t guessed, 4) is the correct answer. There were much harder questions. I’m getting so that I can read off sequence reports, area forecasts, terminal forecasts, & other similar jargon with comparative ease & accuracy.

Sunday while washing the car, I was viciously attacked on the fourth toe of my left foot by an ant (quite a small ant at that). Today I have a good-sized welt there.

And, speaking of ants, one is scurrying across the top of my stationery box at this moment. I see it has wings—well, what can you expect on an air base?

From ants, we shall now move on to the subject of flies. I assure you, my room alone is a veritable biologist’s (or zoologist’s) paradise. Anyway, I was sitting in one of the padded but otherwise fairly uncomfortable chairs in our room, reading Robert Graves’ “I, Claudius” when all of a sudden, a fly came strolling across the page. Now I’ve seen flies before, but never one like this. He was of medium stature, for a fly, and had, as far as I could tell, the usual number of appendages & other paraphernalia usually associated with flies. But here the resemblance ended. He was green, for one thing—not a drab old-shade green, but a glossy, iridescent green. His eyes were his saving feature, though—they were concentric circles of red & green, both very vivid. For some reason, he seemed to take a liking to me, for he meandered across the book & wandered up my let index finger, across my hand, and on up my sleeve to a short distance below my elbow.

I must state right here that he did not strike me as being a very intelligent fly, for he just stood there looking wherever a fly’s eyes look, & working his forelegs & mandibles (or whatever they are) like mad. The effect was like someone rubbing their hands in anguish, or greed.

Being the soft hearted slob that I am, I couldn’t bring myself to hit him with the book—besides, he might squish unpleasantly & I can’t stand the sight of blood.

So I nudged him with one finger, which can in part vouch for my opinion of his mental rating. He just stood there with those huge red & green eyes of his. I showed him to my roommates, who did not seem to share my enthusiasm (peasants, the lot of them—no spirit of adventure).

Finally, he condescended to fly two feet to the edge of my chair. I soon went back to my book & probably, in the course of my shifting positions, sat on him. Which only goes to prove, you can’t trust anybody these days.

Well, enough trivia for this time. Until next time I am

If you would care to see more of my letters home, I invite you to visit "A World Ago," at

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. And I'd be pleased to have you stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, June 26, 2009

Spam and Other Disasters

[Note: This was written prior to the Washington, D.C. train crash, so the train wreck references are coincidental, and no insensitivity is intended.]

Ok, I have to admit it. I have recently come to regard the Spam invading my computer's In Box and my privacy like a derailed locomotive crashing through my living room wall. I view it with the same horrified fascination with which I might watch a train wreck...I'm revolted, but can't seem to look away.

And though I have yet to open a single spam message and cannot conceive that I ever would or will, I simply cannot resist glancing over the chaotic jumble of overturned logic, leaking toxic gibberish, smashed grammar, and unconscionable blatant lies strewn about in the form of an opening phrase intended to lure the unwary into the hell which lies beyond. Yet even though I never look further than the lead-in, I cannot resist reacting to them. I've posted a couple of blogs' worth of examples of the more egregious examples of the depths to which spammers will sink to get your attention. Here are a few more examples presented exactly as they were received, and my knee-jerk reactions.

"He tinkledy-binkledy-winkled a bell" (I admit I found this cute as all hell, but not cute enough to open it.)

"Your illegal activity." (That's it? My illegal activity? My illegal activity what? Ooooooh, dear! I've been found out! Can I write you a check to make it go away? Please?)

"Missed my message?" (No, I didn't miss your message. I didn't see it, but I certainly didn't miss it.)

"Deeper in her entrails. What your score...." (What a lovely, lovely mental picture!)

"Waiting for reply." (I love an optimist. Keep waiting.)

"Wipe off the borders between what you do in bed and what you can do." (What in the hell is that supposed to mean? Never mind. I don't want to know.)

"Excuse me for sending it." (Only if you promise never to send me anything, ever again.)

"Best girl-digging skills--Clear your skin with supreme Clearitol treatment...." (Not sure what digging for girls, which I assume is something like digging for clams, has to do with clearing my skin, but....Maybe it's the healthy ocean air.)

"Easily BUY (low fee) yourself a Degree, Bachel0rs, MBA, Masters, or Ph.D. No STUDY!" (Right, on, man! Why bother to actually learn anything or read those dull books or go to crappy classes when you can plunk out $250 for a worthless piece of paper?)

Michael Torrez--"Good Day, I am Mr. Vincent Cheng Hoi Chuen, GBS, JP Chairman of the Hong Kong and Shanghai...." (No, you are some creep named Michael Torrez, and you should be ashamed of yourself.)

"Have your own decent hair effectively grown.--Best price." (My own decent hair is effectively grown without having to pay for it, thank you. It's the getting it cut that costs money.)

"Let Accai Berry imporve your health!" (Yeah, like I'm going put my health in the hands of some idiot who can't spell 'improve'?)

"Get yourself a no charge cellular phone..." (Does anyone other than me see the catch words here? "Hey, don't complain to us! We warned you about the batteries!")

And the Spam Overdose of the Month Award goes to the no fewer than 35 slices of spam received within the space of two days with variations on: "Hello. It has come to or attention that you are in dire need of financial aid." (Well, as a matter of fact, I could use a few extra dollars, but something tells me that borrowing it from you isn't the way to go.)

No hurry to clear the tracks: there'll be another train coming along any minute now.

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

Friday, June 19, 2009

You and Me

There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the deserts and beaches of the earth. And sometimes I suspect there must be nearly as many blogs on the internet as there are grains of sand in a sandbox.

So why am I writing this blog, and how can I possibly expect you to care? There are times when I am totally overwhelmed by the awareness that I am simply one grain of sand in that sandbox, and truly grateful that of all those grains of sand, you’re looking at this one. What can I hope to put in here that might keep you from just tossing it back into the sandbox?

Well, I truly think that one of the things that sets this blog apart is the simple fact that I am always acutely aware that you are there, reading these words. I sometimes feel like those S.E.T.I. (Search for Extra Terrestrial Life) scientists, beaming signals into outer space in hopes someone, somewhere, some day may hear. I have said countless times, using a more earth-bound metaphor, that without readers, a writer is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. Just putting words into a computer or on a piece of paper is pointless if there is no one to read them. So odd as it may sound, you are, in effect, the most important person in my life, even though we probably have never, and will never, meet face-to-face.

I've always been excruciatingly shy when it comes to presenting myself to other people, which is one of the major reasons I became a writer. I am far more comfortable with the written word than with the spoken. For one thing, a word or sentence once spoken cannot be taken back, changed, polished. It is received and interpreted exactly as it strikes the ears and is filtered to the brain. Writing affords me far more confidence than talking. If I don't like the way a sentence sounds, I can redo it until it sounds the way I want it to. This is a tremendous advantage in keeping me from looking like a fool (though I must admit, this happens not infrequently even in writing).

I have little problem laying myself out before you in words, and I quite probably tell you, at times, things you did not particularly want to know. But honesty and frankness are rare commodities in our world. And though they are also subjective (what is the truth for me may not be the truth for you), most people keep themselves to themselves, and as a result may lose track of the fact that they, their experiences, their reactions, their fears, hopes, and dreams are not really all that different from other people's. So I spread myself out, like butter on a warm English muffin, in hopes that you will recognize some of me in yourself.

Having to all but plead with potential readers to try my books is, on the one hand, rather sad. But I justify it by the knowledge that I'm not asking something for nothing. My books are meant to entertain, to allow you to step away for a couple of hours from your own life and it's attendant problems and pressures, and to immerse yourself in a world not your own, of people and experiences not encountered in your normal daily life.

Never underestimate the benefits of occasionally stepping away from your own reality. I often say how reality and I are barely on speaking terms. I may spend far more time away from it than you, but I don't think I'm alone in appreciating being somewhere outside myself. And come to think of it, those five words---I don't think I'm alone---is a pretty good summation of exactly why I write and why, I hope, you read.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back, and bring a friend. I'd be pleased to have you stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Spam, Please!

And here we are again, folks, up to our eyebrows in Spam. And I, once again a devotee of the art, present you herewith another sampling of its delights, exactly as received.

"Invitation to dinner" (Thank you! What are we having? with me on this? All together now: "S P A M !" Ya gotta love it!)

"ready for your cartier?;--Biggest choice of watches...." (Why do I suspect the lack of a capital C in "cartier" might be a clue to something other than a third grade education?)

"Rihanna acted dirty" (Oooooooh! I'm all a-twitter with excitement. I can't wait to open the message to find out more. Who's Rihanna?)

"No interested in getting 2500euro Free? Then don't read on." (Thanks. I no interested, and I won't.)

"Hey buddy--the us dollar continues to fall in value......" (Hey, pal, thanks for the heads up. I had no idea. I assume the them dollar is stable?)

"Sarah gave your mail..." (Yes, and Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore. So your point is...?)

"I miss you soo much!!--Anti-depressant" (And I miss you, too, whoever you are. And after looking at this crap, I need an anti-depressant, but not from you!)

"Stinkbesies--With this you will always feel respect for yourself...." (Well, to paraphrase the Smuckers Jam logo: "With a name like Stinkbesies it has to be good!")

"Look at this shit." (Unfortunately, that's what I'm doing.)

"You have received an e-card!--Dear Hun,....." ("Hun" as in Atilla the?)

"You're a moron!" (...sayeth the pot to the kettle)

"Hello--was john that is it just answer today please...." (Of course I'll answer today! It's always a pleasure to see someone who speaks fluent Gibberish.)

"Asbestos Alert! You May Be Entitled to Millions!!" (...or not. I'll go for the latter.)

"Didn't receive Paypal transfer." (Do you suppose it might have something to do with the fact that I didn't send it?)

"Tiny helper for big growth--And did you already do happy the gerlfriend..." (Gee, and I thought you were talking about fertilizer pellets for tomato plants. But no, I did not do happy the gerlfriend. I never do happy the gerlfriend. I prefer bouys.)

"Do you get over $850 each day on line? Then just ignore this...." (Consider it done.)

"Hey, check her butt!" (Thank you, but I'll pass.)

"Forget about fear to be 'limp' in front of woman--get the support of your dream." (Good Lord, how many times do I have to tell you people?)

So you think we're done with spam, now? To quote my favorite not-sold-in-stores announcers: "But wait...there's more!"

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. And remember, you're cordially invited to visit my website at, or drop me a line at

Friday, June 05, 2009

Another Can o'Spam

I've often said, in these blogs, that I feel like an alien in a world I simply cannot understand. And the more I reach for the "Delete All" option on my Spam folder, the more firmly I am convinced of it. I am truly sincere when I say that I cannot comprehend how greed has so overcome our world that over 10 billion spam messages are sent out every day. The sub-humans who create and perpetrate this idiocy have absolutely no concern for logic or human decency, or the fact that they are preying on the gullible.

We've all heard jokes about and seen reports on jobs which are held in lowest esteem by the pubic. Traditionally lawyers and used car salesmen are on the list. But spammers are so far beneath contempt they do not even register. What purpose do these creatures serve, other than to take advantage of others? And that they apparently succeed and prosper says clearly that we are doomed as a species.

And, dear Lord, it never ends. The backed-up sewers of cyberspace continue to bubble and spray and splatter over every computer on the planet. At times, I like to put myself in the role of what I imagine the spammers see as their ideal target, and react accordingly to their messages. It seldom works, and my instant reactions, even under the most ideal of circumstances are less than positive. Here are a few more shining examples of the spammer's art, and my immediate response to them.

"He tinkledy-binkledy-winkled a bell" (I still didn't open it, but I do applaud its creativity)

"Your illegal activity." (oooooh, dear! Am I in trouble? Can I write you a check to make it go away? Please?)

"Missed my message?" (No, I didn't miss your message. I didn't see it, but I certainly didn't miss it.)

"Deeper in her entrails. What your score...." (What a lovely mental picture!)

"Waiting for reply" (Of course you are. Keep waiting)

"Should the Acronym LOOL just die?" (I have no problem with that.)

"I'm pressing charges!" (Good. If I send you a couple pair of pants, will you press them, too?)

"Perhaps you could be my new friend--Hi, My name is Maria. I am looking for a friend to chat. I have a picture if you wi...." (Note: If your name is Maria, why did your note come from someone named Pearline Triplett? And why did I immediately think of that old drinking song: "Get off the table, Mable....the quarter's for the beer.")

"Ah no replied she--What ails you, king's daughter! lodgings! Mr. Greenland lawful...." (And the answer is still "No!")

"Your request canceled" (Oh, no! Please tell me how I can un-cancel a request I never made! I can't live without whatever the hell you're talking about!)

"This is my third and Final Mail to you!" (Promise?)

"She went and opened the door--The next day. counterflow. Jr. Tariff brothers favoring..." (And this is supposed to get me to buy something from

"Britney: I was a slave--You received this newsletter because you expressed an interest in our products and services...." (You are mistaken. I assure you I have no interest whatsoever in your products or services, whatever they may be. And I'm not even curious as to what Britney's being a slave has to do with it.)

I do not fool myself that any amount of ranting against spam and its loathesome perpetrators will do a bit of good. But like so many things over which I have no control, raging against them is better than merely accepting them. And once again, I will not go gently into that good night.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back, and bring a friend. And I'd be pleased to have you stop by my website at

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I, Universe

After reading one of my more lugubrious (love that word) posts, a friend said “Do you honestly think you’re the only person in the world who has ever felt this way?” To which I replied: “Yep.”

The fact is that I was fudging just a bit. It is partly because I realize that I am NOT the only person to suffer from bouts—some more justifiable than others—of doubt and self-pity, or to have done incredibly stupid things, or to be too-frequently frustrated to the point of tears or sometimes frightening rage by something that does not go the way I want or expect it to go. Which is, in turn, the basic reason I am a writer rather than a plumber or watch repairman.

Because each of us is born into a species in which we are only one of seven billion and are therefore so vastly outnumbered, we tend to assume, erroneously, that everyone else is part of a vast private club to which we do not belong. It's a little like not being able to see the forest for the trees, and it simply never occurs to us that we are ourselves, in fact, a tree in that forest. And we're not only a tree in the forest, we're also round pegs in a square hole, and any of two thousand other metaphors indicating our sense of being separate and separated from everyone else. In a world of an infinite range of color, the social rules by which we live are largely written only in black or white, with very rare occasional shadings of grey. Our society sets up immutable rules which no single individual within that society could possibly follow fully.

Yet we are led to believe there is some sort of gigantic yardstick against which we are convinced we must measure ourselves. And since there is in fact no such yardstick, inevitably we fail. And the problem is not that there is none, but that we insist upon assuming there is. “This is the way you must behave,” we are told, and the fact that almost nobody really does or could behave in that exact way has nothing to do with it. “This is how you must think,” we are told. A box is drawn around us, and those few who ever even think to step beyond its imaginary boundaries do so act at their own peril.

Our popular culture insists upon establishing arbitrary and ultimately self-destructive rules which benefit few and do harm to many. Two of the most unbendable of these rules is that to have worth as a human being, to be adored, to be worshipped, one must be young and beautiful. That only a relatively small percentage of humanity is either of these things is immaterial. The further you are from either of these standards, the less value you have as a human being. Susan Boyle's initial appearance on Britain's Got Talent was a quintessential example of this theory. Here is this....this one would look at twice on the street. You could see the scorn on the faces of the audience when she first walked out on stage. She was obviously a nobody. A nothing. Not worth paying attention to. Until she opened her mouth.

And how many people learned a lesson of tolerance and understanding from Ms. Boyle's stunning contradiction of what everyone automatically assumed by just looking at her? Sadly, I'd imagine very few.

We treasure our prejudices, even if we ourselves are victims of them.

I do not do either pontification or pondering of deep issues well, as evinced by the above, but I do enjoy doing it, just to prove to myself that I am capable of thinking at all. Descartes hit it on the head back in 1641 when he said, "Cogito, ergo sum."

So what do you think?

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back, and bring a friend. And I hope you might stop by my website at, where this blog also appears.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Deaf Heart

The mind speaks quietly and logically, but too often the heart is deaf.

One of the writers I've gotten to know on the internet....and who is with the same publisher....came into town with his partner this past Saturday for a book signing, and suggested we meet for coffee before the event. Though I had to work and couldn't attend the signing, I mentioned it to a couple of friends and Gary agreed to join us for coffee, then go on to the reading/signing. Both the author and his partner proved to be really nice and interesting guys, and when they suggested that Gary and I join them for a drink later that night, we agreed.

I had not been to a gay bar on a Saturday night in far more years than I care to count. With each passing year, I find myself moved....pushed, if you will....further and further to the perimeter of a community with which I have always identified and of which I felt an integral part for so many years. And frankly, it hurts to know I no longer belong.

Now, the mind points out with irrefutable logic that this is simply the way the world works, that it is nothing personal. But the heart totally refuses to accept that reality, and to me it is very personal indeed.

Chicago's Boys Town on a Saturday night is a mass of people. All young, all beautiful. We met in front of one of Boys Town's largest and most popular bars. The writer's partner was parking the car, and so we stood on the sidewalk amidst a steady Mississippi of 20- and 30-somethings, each one more attractive, more vibrant, more joyous than the one before. And I stood there, excruciatingly aware that I was no longer one of them, my heart literally aching with longing to be one of them.

The partner showed up, and we moved to the door, where two very handsome young men in a tight tee-shirts were checking IDs of everyone who entered. No one could possibly doubt, at a distance of three blocks let alone three feet, that I had blown out the candles on my 21st Birthday cake long, long ago, but rather than have the checker ask (it's probably required by law), I showed him mine, feeling about three inches tall as I did so.

We made our way through three or four different bar areas, some with blaring music, some more quiet, to the stairway leading to a very pleasant roof garden, with two separate bars of its own. I ordered a Kaluha and Cream---light on the Kaluha, heavy on the cream, which all but shouted "Woos, here!" I didn't want to explain that I didn't order a manhattan, which I'd have loved, because alcohol burns my mouth, so I let the bartender think whatever he might; and that he would think anything at all is a form of reverse was just another drink order. To him, perhaps, but not to me.

As we stood around talking I developed what I call "a case of the drools:" my mouth produces no saliva, but secondary glands do, under certain stimulus, produce large quantities of liquid over which I have no control and am seldom aware until I open my mouth to speak. So as a result, I say very little, undoubtedly adding to my image as a dull, uninteresting old man.

Once again, my mind tells me that I am being far, far to hard on myself. And once again, my heart refuses to listen.

My favorite epitaph, which I quote frequently, reads: "As you are now, so once were we. As we are now, so shall you be." And as I looked out over the sea of beautiful young people swirling and laughing and talking as they flow around a solitary, aging man they do not see, my mind logically repeated that phrase. My heart did not care.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back, and bring a friend. And I hope you might stop by my website ( from time to time.